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Soundtrack review: Max and me (Mark Mckenzie – 2018)

Best of 2018 Film scores perfect scores

Soundtrack review: Max and me (Mark Mckenzie – 2018)



“Max and me” is a 2018 animation movie. It tells the true story of Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe, and the incredible challenges he faced during the Nazi invasion of Poland during World War II. Kolbe protected and helped Jews from Nazi persecution, and was punished for this, sent to Nazi German death camp, Auschwitz. His ultimate sacrifice came when he volunteered to die in place of a stranger who was distraught for his wife and children. The story unfolds through a present – day encounter of an older man, Gunter, and a rebellious teenager, DJ, using the story of Father Max to teach DJ many lessons in love and sacrifice. Mark McKenzie wrote the score.

Besides the name of this wonderful composer I noticed another name that speaks volumes to my heart, Joshua Bell, the genius violinist, the bringer of emotions who, alongside Hilary Hahn and Ytzhak Perlman is my favorite master of this instrument. “Angels and demons” and “Defiance” are just two of the scores where his performance affected me deeply. The opening cue of “Max & me”, “I am”, is simply another display of emotional virtuosity and depth from a man for whom the bow is a magic wand; the short entrance in this score is tender and heartbreaking. As soon as he takes a bow and lets other instruments take the central stage I am transported in a world where all that matters is what’s inside, the soul, the love, in spite of the cruel outside world. The cues are short and simply magical; I feel I have been welcomed in a fairy tale world, both because of the atmosphere and of how incredibly, not of this earth beautiful the music of Mark McKenzie is.

“Head in the clouds over you” describes perfectly the music and the emotion; this is pure love, with the angelic, subtle choir and the soft, comfortable sound in which Joshua Bell’s violin whispers every now and then to let us know that it’s eternal,ever present, like something you know it’s always there even if you don’t see him, her, it all the time. The way the violin appears in the cues where it’s not central mimics for me the presence of true faith.

The musical story of “Max & me” is one of inspiration and not letting adversity get the best of you; the fairy tale of the souls which brings beautiful, dreamy cues is interrupted every now by the presence of the war as a background, an evil presence that’s represented melodically, gently by the composer. The subtle choral inserts with a wailing female voice never gets too overwhelming or overly pathetic; it stays honest and believable.

Full and rich orchestral scores have become the exception rather than the norm in today’s film music; there are a few composers that keep that flame burning and, luckily, directors who let them write this kind of scores. Too often film makers get scared and intimidated by powerful compositions that could take focus off their creation instead of realizing that a movie is more beautiful, more complete with a score to match, without realizing that film music is just as important as acting or the script, that it’s the element that makes the colors of that movie shine even brighter and maybe uncover emotional nuances that not even the film maker knew his story had. “Max & me” is an ode to symphonic beauty, to music that transcends boundaries of all kind.

Scores like this one and composers like Mark McKenzie (I lament his much too rare and discrete presence in film music) are what ignited my love for film music in the first place. “Max & me” doesn’t need my pale words to describe it because I could never do it justice. The essence of unconditional love, the essence of sacrifice dominates this sweeping composition which is not of this earth. In my view a great composer can never detach himself completely from his music and he pours a piece of his soul into every note, into every cue and if you listen to this album you will discover a kind, gentle and beautiful soul who shared with us some of this unique beauty. I, for one, am very grateful and hope that Mark McKenzie continues to write music like this for many years.

I must admit there were moments during this score when I got misty eyed. The music simply got to me and I just felt all the love and pain that this story brings. I don’t think anyone can remain untouched by music that is so beautiful and so rich. There were also moments when it felt like i was listening to the composer who for me represents the pinnacle of emotional music: James Horner. The flute motif and the horn section in “Prayer for peace” for example echoed back to “Braveheart” and “Legends of the fall” and I just couldn’t stop the tears. Do not miss this celebration of life and love.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 57 / 57

Album excellence: 100%

I Am (feat. Joshua Bell)
Two Crowns Vision
Head in the Clouds Over You
You Could be Anything
In the Trenches
If You are so Intelligent Why Don’t You Believe?
Ask and It Will be Given to You
When I’m Saying Me I Mean You
Dare to Dream Bigger
A Mother’s Prayer (feat. Joshua Bell)
Dapper Duds
Sunset Hug
I’m Sorry
Nazi Brutality
Prayer for Peace
Auschwitz Cries
Only Love is Creative
I Love You (feat. Joshua Bell)
Triumph Over Fear
He Was Always with Me
I Believe in You
Heaven’s Welcome

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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  1. FaresTdkr 24th March 2018

    Well, Totally agree Mihnea. I’m a big fan of your site Mihnea, it’s my main Reference to explore soundtrack.


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