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Soundtrack review: Stronger (Michael Brook – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Stronger (Michael Brook – 2017)

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In STRONGER, inspired by a true story and based on the New York Times bestseller, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the working-class Boston man [Jeff Bauman] whose iconic photo from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing captured the hearts of the world. Stronger is the deeply personal account of the heroic journey that came after that photo – defining a man’s inner courage, a community’s pride, a family’s bond and an unexpectedly tenacious love to overcome devastating adversity. After losing his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing, Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) attempts to walk again and adjust to his new circumstances. The score was written by Michael Brook.

I am a little surprised by the playful, almost fairy tale like opening of the score; “Tunnel and trash” and “I’ll be there” are almost joyful little piano cues that just want to evoke a simple and normal life I guess. The subtle violin motif that joins in only makes the second cue more beautiful. The score sounds almost like a Victorian period composition in the beginning.

The contrast with the musical moments that depict the tragedy is stark; it’s almost as if the composer lived the events with the main character as the cues “Out of breath” and “A moment of pause” are nothing more than sound effects that transpose those scenes. “Amputee” is the first moment where I recognise the Michael Brook I first heard 20 years ago with his “Ultramarine” track from “Heat”; the piano, the cello and the Spanish guitar show contradictory and confusing emotions. This cue is textural and painful, uncomfortable and affecting. It’s obvious that Michael Brook wrote his music with the anguish of the hero in mind. I like the subdued emotion in the beautiful “I saw the bomber”; the combination of guitar and piano is fascinating.

The cues that explore the Jeff Bauman’s feelings are quiet but poignant; the score could almost be considered minimalistic and in some instances, like “Sitting on my leg” I remember my favourite Michael Brook score, the haunting “Affliction”; the music deals with terrible pain and tragedy but never gets loud or overly dramatic. The composer keeps it honest and personal; there aren’t very many instruments in this composition as the guitar, piano and violin do most of the work and tell most of the story.

I like the ambient pieces; Michael Brook knows how to write ambient cues and “You can go Erin” is one of my favourite gems from this score. I like the Santaolalla like guitar motifs that are just little nuggets of hope and melancholy. As quiet and minimalistic as this score is the composer still manages to insert some heroic motifs but nothing bold, nothing exaggerated, just humanly heroic like in “I can’t do this without you”.

There is an image I always get in my mind when I am thinking about Americans honouring their heroes, or their fallen: it’s a flag raised on the background of a beautiful sunset and a trumpet can be heard playing respectfully and quietly in the background. There’s not trumpet here but Michale Brook manages to evoke the same image to me through his music using other instruments.

“Stronger” is the right score to echo the personal journey of a bombing victim towards rehabilitation; there are no bells and whistles, no epic moments, just quiet little cues that show emotions and tribulations. This score is just the kind of musical companion I want to hear in a story like this to keep me focused on what really matters.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 20 / 49

Album excellence: 40%

Highlights:
02 I’ll Be There
06 Amputee
07 I Saw the Bomber
09 Sutures
11 You Can Go Erin
16 Leaning On Me
22 Concession Confessions

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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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