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WANTED – Danny Elfman

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Wanted is the American directorial debut of Timur Bekmambetov, the Kazakh director of the cult Russian-language science fiction action hits Night Watch and Day Watch. The film stars James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson, an office drone cube-jockey who lives a life of never-ending day-to-day tedium. However, everything is turned upside down when Wesley meets Fox (Angelina Jolie), a sexy assassin, who recruits Wesley into ‘The Fraternity’, an ages-old brotherhood of assassins.

Bekmambetov’s film is a flashy, glitzy, souped-up action flick, completely unlike anything one would expect from a filmmaker from the former Soviet Union, and although the film was not a groundbreaking box office success, it more than illustrates the way in which the language of cinema is becoming less and less separated. For the film’s music, Bekmambetov turned to Danny Elfman, who hasn’t really composed an out-and-out action score like this since Mission Impossible back in 1996 (his comic book work on Spider-Man notwithstanding). His composing style has clearly changed since that time; I didn’t care for Mission Impossible at all, but Wanted is a delight: a loud, pumping work which proves that a score like this can be both entertaining and intelligently constructed.

Firstly, the opening song – “The Little Things” – is quite fantastic. Written and performed by Elfman, with help from 21 composer David Sardy, it’s quite possibly the best movie song I have heard in several years. Elfman hasn’t written an original rock song in quite a while (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory notwithstanding), and it’s clear that talents he honed with Oingo Boingo in the 1980s, and which brought him to the attention of Tim Burton in the first place, have not left him.

The interesting thing about the score proper is that, although it sounds like and Elfman score, with all the little musical tics and familiar compositional hallmarks Elfman has, but it’s presented in a wholly new way. It’s the sign of a good composer when he can continually sound like himself, and have a distinct musical personality, but still manage to seem fresh and invigorating. Elfman has been doing this for several years now – the results have not always been completely successful, but the effort cannot be underestimated.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, perhaps due to the director’s heritage, there is something is a Russian flavor to some of the music. The opening “Success Montage” features a long-lined string theme with a Slavic flavor, a steady, propulsive percussion undercurrent, and a lively, chattery orchestral accompaniment that makes for compelling listening. Similarly, the “Fraternity Suite” opens with some liturgical chanting straight out of the Orthodox church, which is underpinned by subtle throat-singers which again allude to Bekmambetov’s Kazakhness.

“Wesley’s Office Life” plays like an homage to all Elfman’s musical heroes and contemporaries, beginning with a slightly misleading techno tempo, but eventually going on to embrace the slashing string writing of Bernard Herrmann, and the creatively bubbly dissonance of Don Davis’s Matrix scores, while working in the four-note motif from the opening song into the underbelly of the piece, intelligently linking the two elements together.

The action music, when it truly kicks into gear, is quite fierce in its intensity. “Fox in Control” has a sense of insistent urgency in its churning string ostinatos and pseudo-retro blatting brasses; “Exterminator Beat”, with its percolating groove, sounds like the kind of thing Lalo Schifrin might have written if he were the king of the 2000s rather than the 1970s; the vivid and tumultuous “Rats” mixes Fox’s ostinato with the Slavic theme under a wild action motif to superb effect, and continues the flavor on into “The Train”.

At the other end of the scale, “Fox’s Story” and “Fox’s Decision” have a lovely, soothing vocal element, and some entrancing Indian/Middle Eastern instrumental textures (sitars, perhaps) which cast a beguiling sheen of mystery over Angelina Jolie’s sultry loveliness. “Fox’s Decision” swells into a wonderfully majestic finale, before concluding on a slightly downbeat note in “Fate”, which once again sees Elfman embracing his new found love of popular minimalism.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Wanted is the fact that, despite the fact that film is basically a summer popcorn flick, Elfman’s score does not treat it as such. The cleverness of the score’s construction belies its simple inspiration, and Elfman’s steadfast refusal to ‘dumb down’ the high standards he has set for himself in recent years is commendable. Highly recommended.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Little Things (written and performed by Danny Elfman) (3:26)
  • Success Montage (3:31)
  • Fraternity Suite (3:28)
  • Wesley’s Office Life (5:15)
  • The Scheme (1:44)
  • Fox in Control (2:16)
  • Welcome to the Fraternity (4:29)
  • Fox’s Story (3:29)
  • Exterminator Beat (2:52)
  • Rats (3:28)
  • The Train (3:58)
  • Revenge (4:33)
  • Fox’s Decision (2:29)
  • Breaking the Code (1:21)
  • Fate (1:46)

Running Time: 48 minutes 13 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-340212 (2008)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker and Bruce Fowler. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Bill Abbott Album produced by Danny Elfman and Bill Abbott.

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