JACK REACHER – Joe Kraemer
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Jack Reacher is a new action-thriller film directed by Christopher McQuarrie, based on the popular character created by author Lee Child. This film is based on the plot of the novel “One Shot”, and stars Tom Cruise in the title role as an ex-military investigator called in to help ambitious defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who sees something wrong with the apparently open-and-shut case of a former military sniper accused of killing five innocent civilians along Pittsburgh’s Allegheny River waterfront. Helped and hindered by dogged police detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and district attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) – Helen’s father and legal opponent – Reacher discovers that there is much more to the story than meets the eye, and that a shadowy figure known only as The Zec (Werner Herzog) may be behind it all. Director McQuarrie, still best known for winning an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects in 1996, has crafted a tight, enjoyable, engrossing little thriller with several superb set-pieces and a labyrinthine plot that is both believable and unpredictable, while Cruise’s lead performance is a good one, full of charisma and cockiness, despite him being the physical opposite of the character in the novels.
The music for Jack Reacher is by composer Joe Kraemer, for whom this is a second shot at cracking the film music big time. Kraemer was heralded as one of film music’s ‘next big things’ following his excellent score for the thriller The Way of the Gun in 2000, but for various reasons his career trajectory faltered somewhat afterwards, and he never quite managed to make the breakthrough his talent suggested. He has over 60 credits to his name, but other than a couple of straight-to-DVD horror sequels in the House of the Dead, Joy Ride and Hitcher franchises, nothing of real note, and as recently as last year he was scoring the soft-core drama anthology series Femme Fatales for Cinemax on American cable TV. As actress Amy Poehler said at the Golden Globes last week, “none of us have plans to do porn”, so hopefully, this will be the score which bucks that trend for Kraemer.
Kraemer’s score is very much rooted in the brooding political-thriller scores of the 1970s that composers like David Shire, Michael Small and Dave Grusin used to write for films like All the President’s Men or The China Syndrome; tight, taut musical expressions which accompanied determined detectives taking on the man, the little guy with a righteous political agenda. Where Kraemer’s score differs from those sparse, intimate works is in its scope and size – Jack Reacher’s orchestra is comparatively large and powerful, giving Kraemer the dynamic range to really go for broke. Things start off with a bang with the knockout “Main Title”, which builds out of a warm, inviting brass theme which has more than a hint of Silence of the Lambs-era Howard Shore about it, eventually becoming a thunderous, percussive march with a staccato string pulse and fat, punchy brass.
The Howard Shore influence is noticeable throughout much of the rest of the score, especially in the tension and suspense moments. The way Kraemer lays out his chord progressions and phrases his woodwinds in tandem with the strings in cues such as “Who Is Jack Reacher?”, “The Riverwalk” and during the dramatic, conclusive “Showdown” gives the music a smart, intellectual, but slightly unnerving atmosphere that is perfect for the tone of the film. Elsewhere, there’s a three-note string-based thematic element in cues such as “Barr and Helen” and “Helen’s Story” which reminds me of Christopher Young’s 1990s thriller scores like Copycat, Species and Jennifer 8, subtly balancing a hint of romance with the bigger picture of tracking and finding killers. Let me be clear that, in making these comparisons, I intend them to be entirely complimentary to Kraemer – they’re not rip-offs of other composers, and not even homages. Jack Reacher simply inhabits a similar sonic world as these masterful scores from the past, and the score is better because of it.
Quite a lot of the middle part of the score is given over to this type of suspense music, and in other hands it could have been reduced to little more than string sustains and stingers, but Kraemer manages to keep everything interesting, mainly through his terrific orchestrations. Parts of the aforementioned “Barr and Helen” and “Evidence”, for example, weave an Armenian duduk into the orchestral mix as a marker for the brief Middle Eastern flashback sequences involving the history of the suspect, James Barr. Later, trembling bass flutes, harp glissandi and wicked-sounding cello chords act as a marker for mysterious, malevolent mastermind behind all the evil-doings in “Farrier and the Zec” .
Interestingly, considering the nature of the film, there is very little straight action music; apparently, Kraemer threw around some ideas for a big and ostentatious action cue leading into the car chase sequence where Cruise zooms around the streets of downtown Pittsburgh in his recently-acquired sports car, but this was never included the final cut of the film when it was determined that the scene played better underscored with nothing more than roaring engines and squealing tires. Instead, the patriotic theme that opened the score returns in a more intimate setting for woodwinds and strings towards the middle of “Evidence”, and the rhythmic element from the main title returns at the beginning of “The Quarry Sequence”, before everything gets wrapped up into a neat little package with full statements of all the main thematic elements in the 7-minute “Finale and End Credits”, a superb recapitulation of everything the score has to offer that finishes with a huge fanfare flourish.
I really hope that the success of Jack Reacher, and the generally positive notices the score has been getting, allows Joe Kraemer’s career to re-ignite ten years after the blue touch paper was initially lit. The film music world needs voices like his, who know how to write for orchestras, are comfortable with prominent themes, and make intelligent dramatic decisions for the good of the film. Although Jack Reacher is not a flashy score that will garner legions of fans, the score does what it does very well, and that blockbuster main theme will be a favorite of many.
Note: The CD release of the score has a bonus cue, “Prisoner Human Being”, while the iTunes download version of the score has a different bonus cue, “Suite from Jack Reacher” .
Buy the Jack Reacher soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title (3:47)
- Who is Jack Reacher?(3:10)
- The Investigation (3:19)
- Barr and Helen (4:37)
- Farrier and The Zec (4:36)
- The Riverwalk (4:02)
- Helen’s Story (3:10)
- Evidence (8:30)
- Helen in Jeopardy (4:56)
- The Quarry Sequence (3:55)
- Showdown (4:33)
- Finale and End Credits (7:25)
- Prisoner Human Being [CD exclusive bonus cue] (4:37)
- Suite from Jack Reacher [iTunes exclusive bonus cue] (6:52)
Running Time: 68 minutes 05 seconds
La-La Land Records LLLCD-1240 (2012)
Music composed and conducted by Joe Kraemer. Orchestrated by Tim Davies, Zack Ryan and Carl Rydlund. Recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick. Edited by John Finklea. Album produced by Joe Kraemer, Dan Goldwasser, Matt Verboys and MV Gerhard.