I’m by no means a movie buff, and find I’m so immersed in books and music that movies completely pass me by. But the other day, I happened to spot a hoarding on the side of a bus. What struck me wasn’t the image or even the title, but the strapline: ‘In Mexico, sicario means hitman.’ It seemed curious that the strapline should be an explanation of the title: after all, if the title required explanation to connect with a market, despite a case headed by Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin, you have to wonder how marketable it is. Moreover, it’s hardly the most riveting strapline. No matter: it’s directed by Denis Villeneuve and had a $30M budget, and I gather the film’s reviews are favourable. Besides, it’s not every day the soundtrack to a major movie lands with me for review.
But then, this isn’t your typical soundtrack. Academy Award nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson has a reputation for moving and effective film scores, and it’s perhaps not surprising he’s back collaborating with Villeneuve for a second time after 2013’s ‘Prisoners’, although the methodology behind the soundtrack’s conception and recording couldn’t be much more different.
True to form, Jóhannsson builds tension and drama from the very start. Even without any of the visual aids which denote the soundtrack, this FEELS like a soundtrack and SOUNDS like a soundtrack. That doesn’t mean it’s in anyway cliché or emanates a sense of being tied to the visuals, but that it’s a multi-dimensional work which has a big sound, and a big sense of dynamic and drama. It also makes you realise just how essential a strong soundtrack can be in bringing a film to life, and guiding the viewer’s emotions almost as much as the actors and the dialogue.
Rising strings surge and swell. Heavy drones and explosive crashes crash like bombs. The sounds are bold and impactful, but there’s still plenty of room for detail. Flickers fleetingly appear in the peripheral vision of the mind’s eye. You’re left feeling jumpy, on edge. You feel involved, in the very best sense.
In a nutshell, it’s a classic film score, and then a bit more. Kinda special, whether you’ve seen the film or not.
Jóhann Jóhannsson Online