Home > Reviews > THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES – William Ross


gameoftheirlivesOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The original choice of composer for director David Anspaugh’s film The Game of Their Lives was Jerry Goldsmith, who sadly died before he was able to contribute any music to the project. While it would have been a thrill to hear one last, potentially great score from Goldsmith, his sad loss ultimately provided an opportunity for William Ross to come in and make the old man proud. Ross, whose career is taking a definite upward shift off the back of films such as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Ladder 49, has responded to the film with a warm, melodic, uplifting score which will surely have great appeal.

Broadly, The Game of Their Lives is a film about the 1950 soccer World Cup in Brazil, and the inexperienced US team’s stunning 1-0 victory over the mighty England in a group match in Belo Horizonte. The English, whose squad included legendary players such as Stanley Matthews, Alf Ramsey, Jackie Milburn, Billy Wright and Stan Mortensen, were expected to wipe the floor with the Americans, whose team consisted mainly of regular guys with regular jobs, most of whom hailed from St. Louis, Missouri. However, against all the odds, the only goal of the game was scored by Haitian-born Joe Gaetjens midway through the first half – the shockwaves of which were felt throughout the football-playing world.

To put the astonishment at the result into some kind of modern context, try to imagine the reaction if a team made up of all the best American-born baseball players in the major leagues lost a very important game to a team from, say, Norway. Some news agencies initially thought that the result was a misprint, and that the US had actually been beaten 10-1. The Americans had already been soundly beaten in their other games (against Chile and Spain), and went home empty-handed from the tournament (which was ultimately won by Uruguay), but not before they had had their moment in the sun. The film, which stars Wes Bentley, Patrick Stewart, Gerard Butler, John Rhys-Davies and Jimmy Jean-Louis as Gaetjens, celebrates their triumph over adversity, their never-say-die attitude, the bond which brought them together, and the camaraderie and belief in themselves which eventually led them to an unlikely victory.

As is always the case with William Ross’s music, there is a real richness and warmth to The Game of Their Lives. Written, for the most part, for a full orchestra, the score adheres firmly to familiar musical formulas associated with films which deal with the issues this film does: sporting success against the odds, teamwork, friendship, recognition of your roots, striving to be better than anyone thought you could be. However, this is not to say that Ross’s music is clichéd: on the contrary, there is a great deal of personality on show, and more than enough moments of emotional power to keep the most discerning listener entertained.

The main theme, first heard in “Story of the Hill”, bears a passing resemblance to some of James Horner’s early 1990s scores, notably through Ross’s excellent use of noble horns. The inspirational moments, of which there are several, feature a series of splendidly realised orchestral crescendos and bursts of thematic brilliance – the unashamedly Goldsmithian “First Soccer Game” (which resembles his theme-park score ‘Soarin’ Over California’) and the majestic string-led “Uniforms” are great examples of Ross’s talent for eliciting the right emotions from his audience. “Gino Wants To Play” and “Train Station Goodbyes” embrace a softer, more intimate style of scoring, which is no less effective, featuring some delicate piano parts.

The three major set-pieces – “Americans vs. British”, “Final Game – First Half” and “Final Game – Second Half” – contain the meat of the action material: more urgent rhythms, heavier percussion, more dominant brass statements of the main themes, an increased sense of excitement, and a ravishing triumphant catharsis at the end as the impact of the US victory finally becomes apparent. Ross’s action style is very approachable and, unusually for Hollywood in this day and age, theme-led, which ultimately ensures that he never loses sight of the core of his score. The flourish at the end of the final track is one of those celebratory moments, all cymbal clashes and soaring strings, which you wish would never end.

Just a couple of cues buck the trend – “Funeral Escape” is lighter in tone, making good use of playful woodwinds and a generally jaunty demeanour; the vaguely French “Bocce Ball” unexpectedly works a mandolin and accordion into the mix; “Joe’s First Practice” has a toe-tapping Caribbean rhythm which alludes to Gaetjens’ Haitian heritage, and which injects a certain sense of fun and flamboyance into proceedings; and “Rain” features a tinkling electronic/percussive element obviously intended to mimic the sound of rainfall, and which certainly adds a sense of impending drama to the otherwise touching orchestral writing.

I sincerely hope that, as a result of his increased exposure and box-office success in the last few years, William Ross moves out of the orchestrator’s back room and firmly into the spotlight. Despite having shown a tendency to be influenced by temp-tracks on many of his previous scores, he is undoubtedly an exceptionally talented composer, with an ear for pleasant harmonies and memorable themes. As far as The Game of Their Lives is concerned, I don’t think even Jerry could have written it any better.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Story of the Hill (1:13)
  • Funeral Escape (1:32)
  • First Soccer Game (3:32)
  • Gino Wants To Play (1:24)
  • St. Louis vs. East Coast (2:03)
  • Bocce Ball (0:52)
  • Train Station Goodbyes (1:39)
  • Brookhatten’s Practice (1:54)
  • Joe’s First Practice (1:13)
  • Americans vs. British (1:50)
  • Rain (2:56)
  • Joe’s Beliefs (1:50)
  • Uniforms (3:52)
  • Final Game – First Half (3:27)
  • Final Game – Second Half (6:34)

Running Time: 35 minutes 53 seconds

Composer Promo (2005)

Music composed and conducted by William Ross. Orchestrations by William Ross, Mark McKenzie and Bruce Babcock. Featured musical soloists Steve Kujala, George Doering, Mike Fisher, Alex Acuna and Kenny Wild. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner. Edited by Jim Harrison. Album produced by William Ross.

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