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THE NOVEMBER MAN – Marco Beltrami

September 4, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

novembermanOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Essentially a James Bond spy thriller under a different name, director Roger Donaldson’s latest film The November Man is based on the novel ‘There Are No Spies’ by Bill Granger, and stars Pierce Brosnan as Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA assassin now living a quiet life on the shores of a lake in Switzerland. Devereaux is brought back into action following a visit from a former colleague, and quickly finds himself embroiled in an international mystery involving an old flame working for a corrupt Russian diplomat, the Chechen civil war, a social worker looking after young female refugees in Serbia, and a former protégé, who has been charged with eliminating his old mentor. The film co-stars Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, and Will Patton, and has an original score by Marco Beltrami, the third of his four scores in 2014.

Since John Powell wrote the score for The Bourne Identity in 2002, the score for that film has become the musical template for espionage action thrillers in Hollywood – even going so far as to partially influence the last James Bond score, Skyfall. Usually, Marco Beltrami is not a composer who blindly follows convention and, as such, one would expect his score for The November Man to veer away from the mainstream spy-thriller sound one would usually expect a film like this to contain. However, surprisingly, The November Man is actually quite conventional, following the John Powell/Bourne mode quite closely, with lots of electronic pulses overlaying an orchestra more concerned with texture and rhythm than theme and melody.

The score opens with “Take Orders”, a downbeat and introspective piece that features a pleasant performance of a four-note solo guitar motif, which is later restated for piano, and which acts as the score’s only recognizable main theme (it reappears briefly in “Mason Finds Lucy”, and in a more fleshed-out version in the “End Credits”). This cue also introduces the only really unique aspect of the score: a layer of Eastern European textures in the percussion, possibly a cimbalom or some kind of hammered dulcimer, which Beltrami blends into the fabric of all the throbbing contemporary action cues, tinkling away merrily underneath the cello ostinatos and synth loops that dominate the cue’s second half.

This is pretty much the template for the rest of the score; a series of well-composed but generally rather anonymous action sequences punctuated by moments of suspense and tension scoring for strings that is actually surprisingly dreary. Cues like “She Asked For You”, “It Was Devereaux”, most of “Leg Cut”, and “Confession” plod along doing really very little beyond presenting some vaguely industrial grinding textures offset by dissonant orchestral lines. The 9-minute “Mira Mira On the Wall” is a frustrating cue, as it contains the kernels of something genuinely exciting, but buries them in far too much incessant rumbling and groaning for them to be truly effective.

Once in a while a brief textural element or rhythmic idea will make you sit up and listen. The piano line half way through “Natalia”, the unexpectedly vicious brass phrasing in “Code 42” and “Mason Jarred”, the snake-like violin textures in “Who Done It”, and the screaming descending string effects at the very end of “Leg Cut”, for example, all seek to remind you what a creative composer Beltrami can be, and how good this score could have been if the level of innovation had been carried through for more than a few seconds here and there. Similarly, cues like the romantic “Mason Scores” play up the cimbalom and guitar performances more prominently, with the former being the score’s most conventionally appealing cue.

Some of the percussion elements Beltrami uses are intriguing, with the tapped drums and shakers in cues such as the exciting trio “Run from Mason”, “Mason Saves Lucy” and “Reunited” coming across as having a slight gypsy/Romany vibe that is appealing and appropriately redolent of Eastern European culture, mainly through the continued use of the cimbalom idea. These three cues contain by far the most exciting action set-pieces of the score, and make for around 15 minutes of enthralling action writing.

However, despite these occasional moments of significance, I personally found too much of The November Man to be anonymous, a rather unexceptional thriller score. This is especially disappointing considering that the director of the film is Roger Donaldson, who earlier in his career inspired Christopher Young to write Species, John Frizzell to write Dante’s Peak, and Trevor Jones to write Thirteen Days, and who one would expect to have wanted a more impressive and prominent score here.

Marco Beltrami is capable of writing music with much more individuality and personality than this, as he has proven on numerous occasions, and it’s a shame that The November Man falls short of the mark. It’s perhaps prudent to mention the fact that the CD sleeve mentions at least four ‘additional composers’ – Dennis Smith, Marcus Trumpp, Wlad Marhulets and Xiaotian Shi – and it’s entirely possible that they are responsible for the bulk of the monotony. The November Man was released in August, but I doubt anyone will be paying it much attention once the actual eleventh month comes around.

Buy the November Man soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Take Orders (5:23)
  • She Asked For You (2:30)
  • Natalia (3:51)
  • Code 42 (3:58)
  • Natalia Dies (0:57)
  • It Was Devereaux (1:56)
  • Run From Mason (6:52)
  • Who Done It (1:33)
  • Mason Scores (1:27)
  • Leg Cut (4:15)
  • Mason Finds Lucy (1:53)
  • Mira Mira On the Wall (9:26)
  • Confession (4:57)
  • Mason Jarred (0:59)
  • November Man (2:27)
  • Mason Saves Lucy (2:12)
  • Reunited (4:51)
  • End Credits (2:04)

Running Time: 61 minutes 31 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-7295 (2014)

Music composed and conducted by Marco Beltrami. Orchestrations by Tyson Lozensky. Additional music by Dennis Smith, Marcus Trumpp, Wlad Marhulets and Xiaotian Shi. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs. Edited by Chris McGeary. Album produced by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.

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  1. Jim Ware
    September 6, 2014 at 12:11 am

    This isn’t really floating my boat either. A couple of nice cues, but overall a disappointment after the fantastic ‘The Giver’.

  2. September 8, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Beltrami was way better on Snowpiercer and, especially, The Giver. Are you going to review any of these scores, Jon?

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