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Soundtrack review: Shock and awe (Jeff Beal – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Shock and awe (Jeff Beal – 2018)



“Shock and Awe” is a 2017 American drama film directed by Rob Reiner and written by Joey Hartstone. The film stars Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, James Marsden, Milla Jovovich, and Jessica Biel, and follows a group of journalists who investigate the reasons behind the Bush Administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Jeff Beal wrote the score. Now, I may not see this movie because I am not into journalistic investigation films but the score, I couldn’t be happier since Jeff Beal has became synonymous with the best and most compelling sound of political movies and documentaries in recent years.

There it is, right from the opening cue “The courtroom”: that never failing patriotic sound of a trumped playing melancholically somewhere far away, the sound that has been the epitomy of political scores from the times of Mark Shaiman. Jeff Beal has of course developed it, changed it, but the core of a heroic, patriotic score of any kind is that trumpet which evokes a flag swinging in the wind. That’s just a wink, a way to tell us what kind of a story this is because right from the main titles the composer takes out his bag of tricks and the music gets complex, compelling, like an intricate web, a puzzle I feel the need to solve.

These days, with so many scores coming out, so many demands from producers and directors to make a score sound “just like…” it’s harder for composers to forge their own path and create a sound that I can instantly recognise as being theirs and yet Jeff Beal managed to do it. I listen to this score and I know who wrote it. I get sucked into that cleverly constructed musical maze that I know I will only leave when the score is over; as most Jeff Beal scores this one is one, continuous, fascinating cue that I don’t feel the need to divide or two interrupt. The music takes me through twists and turns and misdirections with a constant push forward, with an investigative feel to it; the piano comes every now and then to ask the questions or create the doubt while the strings and horns do the heavy lifting. When a more emotional passage appears the flute or cello are there to tug at the internal chords, never in excess, never overstaying their welcome.

“Shock and awe” is Jeff Beal crafting another challenging, captivating score that I simply need to find out how it ends. It’s mysterious, it’s sneaky, it’s velvety dark as most of his scores are, and it’s brilliant. The more I listen to it the more it appears to be changing shape and I discover different nuances with every new listen. It’s my pleasure to try and unravel this moodymusical mystery and I hope you will want to do the same. It’s definitely worth it.

Cue rating: 80 / 100

Shock And Awe Main Title
Moving Out
State of the Union
No Real Evidence
Our Readers
Adam Says Goodbye
The Price

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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