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Soundtrack review: A family man (Mark Isham – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: A family man (Mark Isham – 2016)

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“A Family Man” (previously The Headhunter’s Calling [working title]) is a 2016 American drama film directed by Mark Williams, in his directioral debut, and written by Bill Dubuque. The film stars Gerard Butler, Willem Dafoe, Anupam Kher, Alfred Molina, Alison Brie, and Gretchen Mol. A headhunter whose life revolves around closing deals in a a survival-of-the-fittest boiler room, battles his top rival for control of their job placement company — his dream of owning the company clashing with the needs of his family. Mark Isham wrote the score.

I have a long relationship with Mark Isham’s music. I’ve collected all of his albums and he has created his own sound, his own musical comfort zone that he rarely leaves; this means that his compositions are not always memorable but I am a fan and I am still drawn to them. Somehow I’ve established my own comfort one with his music and whenever I am in the mood to listen to music I know I will have an easy time writing about I look for a spare Isham album. Last year he nailed the music for “The accountant” and now he is back in thriller mode for this one. Right from the second cue of the score, “Road work”, I recognise the Mark Isham piano which goes deeper and more emotional in “Bummed”. The natural transition between frantic and emotional, the subtle changes in tone that rarely get out of a certain range, they are all tools that Mark Isham has honed in over 25 years of writing film music and this makes his compositions enjoyable for me.

The music in “A family man” seems very cold and calculated at times, as it should be considering the story and the rivalry between ruthless head hunters. But Isham knows when to dig an emotional path through the stone of this score and he almost gets atmospheric in “Hospital”, the first cue where the two sounds really collide, the electronic sound of getting things done and the emotional piano. As always I want to hear what comes next, I am drawn to his piano and electronic musings and once again it’s not because I will find memorable cues in here, because Mark Isham rarely is about memorable cues, but because the texture he crafts is welcoming and comfortable.

“Elise” is the first emotional moment of the score and once again the composer doesn’t leave the confines of his music but ads just enough violin to the piano to make it count and I know that the emotional impact of a cue like this is even bigger in the context of the movie. “Dane tunes in” keeps the emotional momentum going and I am very satisfied with this listening experience. “Tribune tower” is the point where I already feel I got more than I expected from this score as it’s a touching violin based cue that once again I can’t wait to hear in context because it moved me.

No matter how quiet and close to minimalistic his music is, Mark Isham manages to make me feel everything the main character feels with his music; much more emotional than I expected, “A family man” shows that he is in one of the best periods of his career in the past couple of years. I enjoyed this score a lot; it calmed me down, it helped me focus and, above all, it made me feel. Mark Isham stays true to his style and sound and keeps improving it and I will continue to look forward to his every composition.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 29 / 49

Album excellence: 59%

Highlights:
Bummed
More
You Only Have One Family
Elise
Dane Tunes In
Tribune Tower
Frank Gehry
The Wrigley Building
Lou in Lieu
What’s Not to Love
Good Luck
Moving On
You’d Be Proud

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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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