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THE EQUALIZER – Harry Gregson-Williams

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

equalizerOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A gritty big-screen reboot of the popular Edward Woodward TV series from the 1980s, The Equalizer stars Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, a mysterious loner with a hidden past, who works in a Home Depot-like hardware store by day, and spends his evenings reading classic literature alone in a 24 hour diner. At the diner McCall befriends Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenage prostitute who longs to get out of the lifestyle, and who connects with McCall over the book The Old Man and the Sea. One day, after Teri is attacked and badly beaten by her pimp, McCall takes matters into his own hands and tries to bargain for her freedom with the gangsters who own her; unfortunately, things do not go as planned, and before long McCall is locking horns with members of the Russian mafia, and their dangerous leader, Teddy (Marton Csokas). The film is a dark, violent, but surprisingly engaging tale of vengeance and retribution; it is directed by Antoine Fuqua, and has an original score by Harry Gregson-Williams.

The Equalizer is Harry Gregson-Williams’s second film for director Fuqua, following The Replacement Killers in 1998; in the intervening years the director has flitted between various members and former members of Remote Control, hiring Mark Mancina for Training Day and Shooter, Zimmer himself for King Arthur, and Trevor Morris for his most recent prior film, Olympus Has Fallen. If you are familiar with any of these scores, then you will understand the kind of sonic world The Equalizer inhabits: a small string orchestra, overlaid with a massive amount of electronic rhythms and textures. Similarly, although the late Tony Scott was not involved in any way with The Equalizer, you can trace a direct musical lineage between films he directed – Spy Game, Man on Fire, Déjà Vu, Unstoppable – and The Equalizer.

The score moves between soft, solitary depictions of McCall’s lonely life, and more dramatic and energetic music for the more kinetic action moments. Electronic pulses, synth percussion rhythms, a moody string wash, lonely piano chords, and an occasional electric guitar texture typify cues like “Alone,” which attempt to capture McCall’s self-imposed isolation. With the exception of a mournful string motif towards the end of the first cue and later in “McCall’s Decision,” there’s no real identifiable melodic ideas to be found here – it’s all about mood and texture, creating a contemporary atmosphere of isolation. “Change Your World” and parts of “A Quiet Voice” are a little warmer and more appealing, increasing the prominence of the solo piano to address the building relationship between McCall and Teri, but they continue to inhabit the same introverted musical world.

The action music is much more in-your-face and abrasive, almost becoming rock instrumentals which attempt to capture the swaggering self-confidence McCall shows in dangerous situations. The second half of “McCall’s Decision,” and cues like “On a Mission,” “Corrupt Cops,” “Making An Exception”, and “Torturing Frank”, are mostly made up of electronic percussive ideas, sub-industrial sound effects, and George Doering’s strumming electric guitars, humanized by an occasional moment when a violin, cello or a piano rises up from the depths.

The 10-minute cue “It’s All a Lie” is a little more energetic and interesting, beefing up the prominence of the ostinatos from the string section, and even trying to address the Russian heritage of the film’s main antagonists with an electronic texture that could be considered a synth approximation of a cimbalom or balalaika, but it quickly settles down into more endless pulsing and rumbling, and the brief moment of piqued interest is gone. Similarly, the conclusive finale “The Equalizer” does have a certain sense of urban cool and arrogant bravado, accompanying McCall’s final rampage of punishing payback with wicked guitar licks and some enjoyable juxtaposition, especially when Gregson-Williams sets performances of Teri’s piano and string motifs and more tinkling cimbaloms against the thrash of the rock music. It’s probably the best cue on the album.

Unfortunately, that’s really all there is to the music. It’s all very adequate in the context of the film, but it’s so generic and un-memorable, literally interchangeable with the majority of the other Fuqua and Tony Scott-style action thriller scores I listed in the second paragraph. It’s perhaps this lack of anything remotely innovative or unpredictable that’s the most disappointing thing about the score. Before I listened to the score, and before I saw the film, I knew exactly what this score would sound like, based purely on the name of the director, the name of the composer, and the genre of the film, and I was right.

Fans of the original TV show will be equally disappointed to learn that Gregson-Williams makes no attempt to quote Stewart Copeland’s classic theme, which seems to me to be something of a missed opportunity, especially as Copeland’s music for the show seems to inhabit a similar sonic world as Gregson-Williams’s music for the movie. It’s also worth noting that, according to the back cover of the CD, “this album does not contain a recording by Eminem featuring Sia,” which is good to know. More albums should make this clear, just so we know.

Buy the Equalizer soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Alone (4:08)
  • Change Your World (4:07)
  • McCall’s Decision (4:08)
  • On A Mission (3:51)
  • Corrupt Cops (2:47)
  • A Quiet Voice (3:37)
  • It’s All A Lie (10:35)
  • Concerned Citizen (2:43)
  • Make An Exception (5:08)
  • Torturing Frank (3:43)
  • The Equalizer (6:39)

Running Time: 51 minutes 44 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-7294 (2014)

Music composed and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. Orchestrations by Ladd McIntosh. Featured musical soloists George Doering, Peter DiStefano, Martin Tillman, Hugh Marsh and Harry Gregson-Williams. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel. Edited by Richard Whitfield. Album produced by Harry Gregson-Williams.

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