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Soundtrack review: 12 strong (Lorne Balfe – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: 12 strong (Lorne Balfe – 2018)

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“12 Strong” (also known as 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers) is an upcoming American war drama film directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig. The film is based on Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, which tells the story of CIA paramilitary officers and U.S. Special Forces sent to Afghanistan immediately after the September 11 attacks. The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, William Fichtner, and Rob Riggle. The plot reminds me a bit of “13 hours: The secret soldiers of Benghazi” and guess what, to my joy, Lorne Balfe who wrote a cracking score for that one signs the music of “12 strong”.

Being the musical chameleon that he is and having a 70 minutes long playground at his disposal, Lorne starts with a slow burning reflective piece “Generations” that starts giving me my ambient fix; this emotional opening combined with the anticipation for the action pieces make me thing that we could have another “Terminator Genisys” on our hands. It’s not “Genisys” yet but “20000 feet above” definitely has that dark menacing percussion sound that the first Terminator movie had and I feel nostalgia gripping me. “Soldier’s wife” deepens that feeling as it reminds me of “Fate and hope” from the aforementioned movie with the moody, heroic piano motif. I am all in for the sweet RCP sound in this score.

The Taliban element appears for the first time as a distorted, electronic ethnic insert in “Waiting for Dostum”; I like it that Lorne Balfe didn’t compromise his sound and managed to bring ethnicity in the music while keeping the electronic vibe. The tension of the story is evoked with ticking percussion motifs that don’t give me a moment to breathe when they appear. I find these elements and pieces to like but I keep waiting for the fireworks to show up. “Drop bombs” is a long cue, 7 minutes, that once again focuses on the tension; these first few pieces are all about the suspenseful texture which is well done but kind of restrictive. The music stays in that tense place for a while without taking off.

The percussion finally picks up pace in “First attack” but the music still doesn’t fully explode. I like the title theme with the slow piano that finally drowns the nervous, trembling strings in the background. Eventually as the composer digs deeper into it this slow burning, quiet sound gets to me; there are subtle inflexions in the sound that when discovered open up the score for me. “Fight like you ride” is another moody piece that grows on me after a couple of listens with that ambient echo and the different layers of sound. As I readjust my expectations for this score Lorne Balfe brings on the melodic emotion in “Prayers” but just as I grab on to it the music dissolves again into that constant tension.

Naturally when a composer and especially one as gifted as Lorne makes the decision to keep “12 strong” mostly suspenseful without letting it go loud or wild it makes me thing that hearing it in context will change my view on it; as it stands right now, the standalone listening experience gave me less than I was expecting, especially after “Geostorm” and “Ghost in the shell”; the action pieces were as uneven as my thoughts on this score and often interrupted very quickly. Still I am left with a few meaningful ambient motifs that I will listen to again.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 28 / 71

Album excellence: 40%

Highlights:
Generations
Waiting for Dostum
First Attack
12 Strong
Fight Like You Ride
The Tangi Gap Assault
Rescue
Handshake
Special Forces

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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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