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Soundtrack review: Mark Felt: The man who brought down the White House (Daniel Pemberton – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Mark Felt: The man who brought down the White House (Daniel Pemberton – 2017)


“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” is a 2017 American biographical spy thriller film directed and written by Peter Landesman, based on the 2006 autobiography of FBI agent Mark Felt, written with John O’Connor. The film depicts how Felt became an anonymous source (“Deep Throat”) for reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and helped them in the investigation which led them to the Watergate scandal.The film stars Liam Neeson as Mark Felt, and Diane Lane as Felt’s wife Audrey, with Tony Goldwyn and Maika Monroe in supporting roles. The score was written by Daniel Pemberton who is probably still nursing the sore throat he got from the frantic breathing he provided for his “King Arthur” score earlier this year.

Daniel Pemberton wrote a great spy score a couple of years ago with “The man from U.N.C.L.E.” but this is a different type of espionage. He opens with a very quiet piano theme “The court of public opinion”, written on a grave and almost accusing tone. I’ve said it times and times before, the solo piano can do anything under the right hands. This piano motif very cleverly returns in the next cue “Washington approach” but over a menacing undertone. Following the Guy Ritchie movies and “Jobs” Daniel Pemberton got a taste for experimenting and combining different sounds in innovative manners. This is why he is one of the most exciting composers to listen to these days; he could have gone for a quietly suspenseful score for this movie and nobody would have complained. Instead he builds his tension with the piano, sometimes with rhythmic one note motifs, other times with a grave motif that sounds as if it was played on a broken piano. He adds to the mix a solo horn motif, electronic sounds and a menacing string section and a cue like “48 hours” is unlike anything I’ve heard lately”. It’s a fascinating and hypnotic piece of music that might get polarising among listeners.

As the entire story relies on shadows and hiding the music is quite dark for the entire duration of the score. The tension is palpable and the composer manages once again to construct it from very few scrap pieces; “Driving force” combines a constant metronome like sound with sparse instrumental motifs, horn, piano and strings, that come in ominous sequences. Halfway through the score it becomes hypnotic because the sounds repeat themselves a lot. Even cues that contain the romantic piano motif, like “Where is Joan?” get sucked into that constant tense rhythm.

As much as I enjoy the experiment it tends to become repetitive at some point in the score. Daniel Pemberton spices it up with more ample orchestral motifs in “Indict the president” as if he was just fine tuning it or constructing it until now. Both the metronome motif and the piano motif introduced in the opening theme leave and echo after the score is over after one hour of music.

I am not sure I would come back to this score since I feel that listening to it once counts as listening to it more times on account of the obsessive motifs. But as an “in the moment” score it constructs a thick atmosphere of tension that coupled with the moments of romantic hope give me an insight into how it was to be Mark Felt even without seeing the movie.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 20 / 56

Album excellence: 36%

The Court Of Public Opinion
48 Hours
Hoover’s Funeral
Indict The President
The Hearing Motion
Mark Felt – The Man Who Brought Down The White House

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).

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