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Soundtrack review: The newspaperman: The life and times of Ben Bradlee (Gary Lionelli – 2018)

Documentary

Soundtrack review: The newspaperman: The life and times of Ben Bradlee (Gary Lionelli – 2018)

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The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee is an American documentary film that premiered on December 4, 2017 on HBO. Directed by John Maggio, the film explores the life and legacy of journalist Ben Bradlee in “an intimate portrait of Bradlee that traces his ascent from a young Boston boy stricken with polio to one of the most consequential journalistic figures of the 20th century.”. Gary Lionelli wrote the score. I imagine this documentary goes well on the traces of Spielberg’s “The post” movie.

I must say from the start that usually I have a difficult time connecting with scores for investigative documentaries as they are very rarely emotional and I am all for emotion in music. Quite often these scores (Zimmer included, with “Frost / Nixon”) got for an alert, melodic sound that mimics the frenzy of investigation while rarely taking time to explore the moral dilemmas that come with reporting breaking stories. I am glad to discover that Gary Lionelli added a little dramatic spice to this usually regular musical dish with chamber orchestra motifs that play very nicely in my ears. There is a warmth I didn’t quite expect in the music and the edge between a real character and a symbolic one become blurry as a cue like “Dear A-hole” for example makes me think of a character more than a real person with the tip toeing of the strings around the piano. The music is simple and beautiful worthy of what is, afterall, a period piece.

The more dramatic moments of the documentary are treated with the same care by Gary Lionelli who treated the story with care for detail as I hear in the luscious, whimsical tone of “Meeting the Kennedys”, the romantic authentic one in “Paris” or the melancholic trumpet in “Doubts” and “The story falls apart”. The variety of characters and reactions that revolve around the main character are represented by the occasional switch from melodic to tense electronic and back to orchestral investigative stride. The score is not at all heavy as the focus has to be on the story at hand and the music must not weigh on the movie going public, especially in case of a documentary.

While the musical range of the score is not wide, the composer compensates by going for depth and whenever the tone of the piano changes, or the instrument goes solo, I as a listener notice it. Just as Bob Bradlee liked investigating and bringing truth to light, I enjoyed exploring and discovering the subtle nuances of Gary Lionelli’s composition, definitely the kind of score that grows on me with each subsequent hearing.

Cue rating: 77 / 100

Highlights:
Dear A**hole
Meeting The Kennedys
The Last Time I Saw Jack
Do The Right Thing
Doubts
The Story Falls Apart

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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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