Type to search

Soundtrack review: War machine (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: War machine (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – 2017)


“War Machine” is an upcoming 2017 American satirical war film directed and written by David Michôd based on the nonfiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings. It is a fictionalized version of the events in the book based on the firing of United States Army General Stanley McChrystal. The film stars Brad Pitt, Anthony Michael Hall, Anthony Hayes, Topher Grace, Will Poulter, Tilda Swinton, and Ben Kingsley. It will be released on Netflix on May 26, 2017. Four-star General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is sent to Afghanistan to bring the war to an end, but finds himself the one under attack. The music was written by are my favorite pair of composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. There are also 4 tracks by German ambient and electronic music pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius.

This is not the usual kind of story that Cave & Ellis write music for but they are too good and too experienced to be bothered about leaving their film music comfort zone. If until now their music evoked vast and quiet spaces without boundaries this time it gets a little louder. The strings are replaced with voices that act like instruments and the result is quite fascinating. In “Humble man” I recognize the trademark Cave & Ellis sound but in a different setting as if those vast empty spaces it roamed in other scores were invaded by people. The peacefulness seems disturbed but the music is equally brilliant. The chorus on this track chants as if trying to perform and ancient ritual. The beginning of this score feels like a mind experiment the composers are doing as they continue to blend, undisturbed, their own unique musical world with hours. I can imagine them sitting side by side with their serious and morose faces caressing the piano notes in a rhythm know only to them.

As this score progresses I once again feel gratitude for being able to listen to such a composition; every time I hear a Cave & Ellis composition I feel like an exile from their strange and quiet world, an exile who is trying to return to the comfort and sanctuary of a place where a gorgeous piano cue like “The bubble” is home. I am a fan of ambient and minimalistic music and to hear these two musical geniuses venture into this territory and make it their own is a gift. The music flows, dreamy and reflective and I don’t ever want to lose this album or my connection with it. The transition to and from the inserts of the Roedelius pieces feels natural as the atmosphere barely changes. Darkness slowly falls and the business and oversaturation of the modern world melts away as the music is stripped to the bare. I don’t need anything else as this composition gives me nurture, dreams and conscience. Yes, I love ambient electronic music and I understand now why Brian Eno’s latest album is endless as his music evolves the more you listen to it. I could listen to something like “War machine” forever. It was very interesting to hear this dreamy composition in context as the movie is about war but in the end the composers got it right; their music serves as the balancing element between the almost irrational pursuit of his ideal by Brad Pitt’s character, almost in a world of his own, and the satyrical tone of the movie; the score tones down the stride and illusions in some scenes while in others it brings much needed seriousness just as a lemon takes away from the sweetness of a dish.

I feel the subtle connection with the Afghan setting in the oriental vibes from “Badi Basim”, another cue that evokes a starry sky. The tone changes then to a bit of irony made of woodwinds and what sound like Japanese drums in the “The moon landing” and “Our noise”. The music gets livelier and more fun. The Roedelius track that follows, “Fabelwein” is also a little happier. This section of the score is an expansion of the landscape the composers created before the sound returns to being reflective.

“NY snow globe” is a perfect name for a cue because it symbolizes what this album means to me: it creates a sanctuary, a place that will never change, a happy place where my love will remain the same and where I can return anytime I will need to taste again the sweetest memory of a perfect moment, be it the smile of my little girl or the look into my loved one’s eyes as we know that it’s only us and nothing else matters.  This is the contribution of the chamber rock band Rachel’s to this score and, just like the Roedelius songs it blends seamlessly into the “War machine” soundscape.

When I hear “Thousands of parades, all over America” I need to blink because I’m in the land of my other favorite pair of composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with their slightly more metallic brand of minimalism. The two musical worlds meet and blend together and I know when Trent will hear this score and particularly this cue he will love it. Same with “Marjah” as the score descends into even deeper darkness.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis managed to write a score that’s both light and dark, quiet and loud but, above all, reflective and hypnotic. The Roedelius tracks were also chosen perfectly and help this album become legendary to me. My favorite musician is Mike Oldfield and the bells and chimes that appear throughout this score hit very, very close to home and to my idea of perfect music. Cave and Ellis defined their work on “War machine” as “spiritual electronics” and I couldn’t think of a better name for what I’ve just experienced.

“War machine” is an experience that I want to go through again and again. This is music for the soul and a place I could go and hide in to protect what’s left good inside me. This is my favorite score of 2017 so far and a journey I recommend to anyone.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 51 / 51

Album excellence: 100%


Ah America

Humble Man

The Bubble

The Civilian Executive

In Liebe Dein (Roedelius)

Badi Basim

Kamee (Roedelius)

The Moon Landing

Our Noise

Fabelwein (Roedelius)


NY Snow Globe (Rachel’s)

Thousands of Parades, All over America


Staunen Im Fjord (Roedelius)

The Hand of Helping

Be Lovely

A Page in the History Books

War machine


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

  • 1

You Might also Like


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.