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Soundtrack review: McMafia (Tom Hodge & Franz Kirmann – 2018)

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Soundtrack review: McMafia (Tom Hodge & Franz Kirmann – 2018)

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“McMafia” is a BBC television eight-part drama series created by Hossein Amini and James Watkins and directed by James Watkins. It was inspired by the non-fiction book, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld (2008) by journalist Misha Glenny. It stars James Norton as Alex Godman, the British-raised son of a Russian mafia boss. Living in London, Alex’s father is trying to escape from organised crime. Tom Hodge and Franz Kirmann wrote the score.

The opening cue “He’s home” has en ethereal, almost religious tone with the female voice wailing and the soft, graceful instrumental undertone. I hear redemption in this cue, I hear adoration and I need to adjust my expectations of this score as I came in certain that the music was going to be mostly action oriented. Somehow the way this score starts reminds me of how certain Nicolas Cage thrillers like “Tokarev” or “Dying of the light” sounded. The composers change the tone after the opening cue to more electronic, thriller oriented. As the score develops it makes me think that the TV show it was written for is complex and the subjects and emotions it deals with are varied; some cues are melodic, other reflective, other tense and other action oriented and if this tonal variation might bother me in a movie, it makes sense for a TV show. Yet there is something different in the way Tom Hodge and Franz Kirmann write for this thriller / drama as they experiment a bit with sounds and with how they combine them. It’s like I am watching scenes where what happens in the background is just as meaningful as what happens in the front; a dripping piano motif hides a very quiet, tortured string motif underneath and this shows the complexity of the main character and his tribulations.

I like the ambient sound in some of the cues; “I am here for you” is really a piece worth exploring, as is “Get away from the door” which is where the composers turn up the experiments by adding some creepy, industrial sounding motifs and a distorted voice growling. Somehow the violence is drowned, absorbed in a quiet composition that can get affecting and uncomfortable; sometimes the music borders on horror but still without getting loud. I like how seamlessly it moves from cold to warm melodic when the story asks for a touch of emotion. The composers find the right balance between comfort and discomfort.

“McMafia” is a score that thrives on tension and repressed emotions. At times melodic, at times abrasive, it gave me enough to make the standalone listening experience enjoyable. Tom Hodge and Franz Kirmann created a special texture for the soundscape of this TV show and I especially enjoyed the ambient moments.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 16 / 47

Album excellence: 35%

Highlights:
He’s Home
I’m A Banker Not A Gangster
I’m Here For You
I’m Sorry I Have Been Away
Without You I Have Nothing To Live For
It’s A Gesture Of Good Will
Who’s God Now ?

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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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