Home > Reviews > TAKEN 3 – Nathaniel Méchaly

TAKEN 3 – Nathaniel Méchaly

January 23, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

taken3Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Taken 3 (styled ‘Tak3n’) is the third and, likely, final installment of writer/producer Luc Besson’s series of modern revenge action-thrillers starring Liam Neeson in what is quickly becoming one of his iconic screen roles. After taking on Albanian human traffickers in Paris in the first film, and virtually the entire Albanian mafia in Istanbul in the second, Neeson’s character Bryan Mills is back home in Los Angeles for the third film, still doting on his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), and hesitantly re-kindling his relationship with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who is becoming increasingly estranged from her current husband Stuart (Dougray Scott). Bryan’s world falls apart when he discovers Lenore’s dead body in his own apartment, and soon he is running for his life, accused of a murder he did not commit, pursued by a dogged LAPD detective (Forest Whitaker), and trying to find the real killers, who appear to have something to do with a vicious band of Russian gangsters terrorizing the city. The film is directed by French action specialist Olivier Megaton, and has a score by the similarly Gallic Nathaniel Méchaly, who has scored all three Taken films to date.

The scores for the first two Taken films didn’t impress me all that much; they fall squarely within that group of electronic-acoustic hybrid action music scores, all of which favor texture and rhythm over real melody and orchestration – basic string sustains and ostinatos overlaid with dance-music/techno beats and a few regional ethnic instruments to give it a bit of local color. Much to my surprise, Taken 3 is significantly more impressive on virtually every level: the orchestra is much more powerful, with richer and more varied instrumental ideas; the melodic elements are much better developed, with moments of genuine emotion; and the action music tones down a lot of the contemporary electronica in favor of exciting, and at times quite elaborate bursts of symphonic chaos, some of which reminds me of the sort of stuff Elliot Goldenthal was writing in the 1990s. In case it’s unclear, this is a very good thing indeed.

After a thunderous brass crescendo in the “Taken 3 Opening,” the score begins with a lovely original song, “Let Me Weep,” written and performed with cut-glass tones by the composer’s sister Gaëlle Méchaly, who is an operatic soprano of some renown in her own right. From that point on, the score tends to split itself three ways: high tension to accompany Bryan’s investigations, high emotion to accompany Bryan’s loss of and mourning over his ex-wife, and high octane action music to accompany the numerous car chases and fight scenes.

The emotions range from the warm and intimate pianos in “Predictable,” to the shifting sentiments of “He Didn’t Do It,” to the searing and operatic string laments in “Bryan’s Grief” and “Saving Kim,” which reverberate with unchecked vibrato-rich drama and even an ethereal vocal effect. The cello writing in these latter two cues is especially noteworthy, bringing the genuine sense of loss and, latterly, relief that Bryan feels flooding to the forefront.

The action cues are, for the most part, superb. Cues like “Bryan Runs,” “Bryan’s Escape,” “College Pursuit,” “Malankov’s Penthouse,” the flashy “Up to the Russians,” “Store Fight,” and the fabulous “Porsche Pursuit,” throb with a relentless energy and a noticeably powerful and punchy brass section that performs the dominant role in each of the cues. I haven’t heard brass-heavy action writing at this level in quite a while – Jerry Goldsmith used to write music like this all the time – but too many composers nowadays simply rely on their electronic doohickeys to do the work of actual musicians, and it’s to Méchaly’s credit that he gives his orchestra something meaty to work with.

Best of all, the orchestral ideas Méchaly introduces are genuinely interesting from a purely musical point of view, with some of the brass phrasing and contrapuntal writing having a flavor of Matrix-era Don Davis or Demolition Man-era Elliot Goldenthal about them. He ensures he uses all parts of the orchestra, too, including a range of percussion items, piano, and various woodwinds – it’s always a treat to hear a bank of trilling flutes playing at the upper range of a dense action cue, and this happens on several occasions here. Listen especially to the superb finale of “Porsche Pursuit, with its cascading flutes offset by dark clusters of brass.

Furthermore, when Méchaly does work in some modern electronica ideas, they actually complement rather than overpower the orchestra – listen to the cool Brad Fiedel-esque pulses at the beginning of “Bryan’s Escape,” for example. He even throws a chanting male voice choir into “Kim’s Interrogation,” and the aforementioned “Up to the Russians,” possibly as a nod to the Red Army/KGB heritage of one of the main villains, adding another level of gravitas to the proceedings. Using a choir to depict Russians has been a staple since time immemorial, and it could have come across as a lazy cliché, but Méchaly somehow manages to keep it all within the realms of taste and respectability.

The soundtrack album also includes a few other songs, including “Toes” by the British Indie band Glass Animals, and most notably the haunting “A Stutter,” written and performed by Icelandic singer-songwriter-composer Ólafur Arnalds, who is developing a film music career of his own via his score for the popular British detective series Broadchurch.

Taken 3 is one of the most surprisingly satisfying pure action scores I have heard in quite some time, and it came so out of left field that I confess I may be guilty of over-praising it a little. Having said that, I still can’t help but be impressed at the level of creativity Nathaniel Méchaly has shown on this score, which in the hands of another composer could have just been another by-the-numbers chore to sit through. I admit I don’t know much of Méchaly’s work beyond the Taken franchise, and it could be that he has shown this level of artistry and compositional excellence on scores for domestic French films that I haven’t seen and haven’t heard; but whatever the case may be, on the strength of Taken 3, I will certainly have higher expectations for his work in the future.

Buy the Taken 3 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Taken 3 Opening (0:35)
  • Let Me Weep (written and performed by Gaëlle Méchaly) (2:54)
  • Toes (written by Dave Bayley, Drew MacFarlane, Edmund Irwin-Singer and Joe Seaward, performed by Glass Animals) (4:17)
  • Predictable (1:20)
  • Leonor Is Dead (1:41)
  • Bryan Runs (2:51)
  • A Stutter (written by Ólafur Arnalds, performed by Ólafur Arnalds feat. Arnór Dan) (5:09)
  • He’s Playing You (1:37)
  • Bryan’s Escape (4:09)
  • He Didn’t Do It (2:23)
  • Inspector Dotzler (1:18)
  • College Pursuit (2:30)
  • Kim Interrogation (3:37)
  • Fourth Yogurt from the Back (1:27)
  • Malankov’s Penthouse (2:40)
  • Up to the Russians (1:28)
  • He’s a Ghost (3:03)
  • Bryan’s Grief (6:13)
  • Anything Yet? (2:38)
  • Store Fight (2:36)
  • Porsche Pursuit (4:20)
  • Saving Kim (4:50)
  • Infinity (written by Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith, performed by The XX) (5:40)

Running Time: 69 minutes 01 seconds

EuropaCorp (2015)

Music composed by Nathaniel Méchaly. Conducted by Olivier Holt. Orchestrations by Lionel Privat. Recorded and mixed by Stéphane Reichart and Jérôme Devoise. Edited by David Menke. Album produced by Nathaniel Méchaly.

  1. January 28, 2015 at 6:06 am

    Another strong review. Thanks for this.
    Any chance you could give us a “Throwback Thirty” Review of Karl Jenkins’ score for “River Queen”? It’s always been an intriguing and mesmerising part of my collection.

    • January 28, 2015 at 11:13 pm

      Sure, I’ll review THE RIVER QUEEN as a Throwback Thirty – as it was released in 2005, I guess I’ll get to it around the year 2035 😉

      • January 29, 2015 at 2:02 am

        Looking forward to it already. See you then.

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