Home > Reviews > THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. – Daniel Pemberton

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. – Daniel Pemberton

themanfromuncleOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is director Guy Ritchie’s remake of the classic 1960s TV show of the same name, which starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, crack agents for the CIA and KGB, respectively, who are recruited by the British to work for the cross-agency spy organization U.N.C.L.E. (“United Network Command for Law and Enforcement”) at the height of the Cold War, to take down whatever was threatening world peace that week. This reboot of the show features Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Solo and Kuryakin, who are teamed together to help an East German defector named Gabi Teller (Alicia Vikander) locate her missing scientist father, who may be helping wealthy shipping magnate Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) build a nuclear weapon which could destabilize the world. The film is an absolute delight, featuring a trio of excellent central performances from Cavill, Hammer and Vikander, which spares no expense in playing up their fish-out-of-water mismatched buddy dynamics. The dialogue is witty and sharp, the action is exciting, the 1960s atmosphere is captured perfectly through the costume and set design, and there is a rich vein of clever humor punctuating the entire project.

The score for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is by the up-and-coming British composer Daniel Pemberton, whose most high profile scores to date have included the horror movies In Fear and The Awakening, the British comedy Cuban Fury, Ridley Scott’s ambitious but poorly-reviewed The Counselor from 2013, popular British TV shows like The Game, Dirk Gently, and Upstairs Downstairs, and the hit video game Littlebigplanet. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. could very well be Pemberton’s breakthrough score; it’s a wonderfully stylish and nostalgic throwback to the classic spy movies of the 1960s, and drips with the sounds and rhythms of that most evocative of musical eras. The original Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series boasted music by some of American television’s greatest composers of the period, notably Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Morton Stevens, Robert Drasnin, and Gerald Fried, among others, and Pemberton channels their music strongly here; however, not content to just draw the line, Pemberton also takes inspiration from composers like John Barry and Ennio Morricone, whose own take on the espionage genre is just as distinctive. The end result is a score that is clearly pastiche, but it’s done with so much panache and attention to detail, one can’t help but be impressed.

Pemberton’s score is built mainly around virtuoso performances for two instruments: the bass flute and the cimbalom. Individually, neither instrument is especially likely to get the blood pumping amongst score fans, but Pemberton uses them in such ingenious ways, and in such clever combinations with other instruments, that their appeal becomes immediately evident. David Heath’s flute solos are just superb; in many cues, Heath not only blows into the flute in the standard manner, but also ‘sings’ into the flute using a technique called beatboxing, or fluteboxing, in which the flautist uses spoken syllables with extra air and much less tone to create a type of percussive sound, while simultaneously using flutter tonguing technique and harmonics. The end result is a unique ‘tukka tukka’ sound which is hugely effective. Cues such as the opening “Out of the Garage,” and later cues such as “We Have Location,” feature the jazz flute and the fluteboxing technique strongly, while in more energetic cues such as “Escape from East Berlin” and “Breaking In” the flute actually forms the basis for the cue’s ostinatos, underpinning the myriad of percussion items and wailing guitars to excellent effect, and driving the action forward.

The cimbalom has, of course, been effectively used as an espionage trope on everything from John Barry’s The Ipcress File and The Quiller Memorandum, to Anton Karas’s score for The Third Man (which was a zither rather than a cimbalom, but the point is the same), and as such is indelibly linked with the genre. Cues like “His Name is Napoleon Solo” and “Signori Toileto Italiano” showcase the instrument prominently, the latter of which also features a guest appearance from a vaguely comedic-sounding accordion. Later, “Laced Drinks” takes the cimbalom and the bass flute and mixes them together with heavier rock percussion, building up to a wonderful driving finale. Elsewhere, “The Drums of War” takes – in Pemberton’s own words – ‘pretty much every bit of percussion we could get in London’, ranging from Hungarian milk jugs, big bass drums, and bongos, to congas, castanets, shakers and rototoms, an offsets them against the cimbalom and guitar combo, resulting in a piece of music which is more Clint Eastwood and The Man With No Name than Napoleon Solo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The continued use of the cimbalom and light rock elements also directly references several of Ennio Morricone’s 1960s and 1970s spy thriller and spaghetti western scores, notably For a Few Dollars More. Pieces like “Mission: Rome,” the effortlessly sophisticated “Bugs, Beats and Bowties,” and the raucous “Breaking Out,” effortlessly channel the maestro’s style – the latter replete with castanets and handclaps to complete the effect – and when Pemberton combines the instrument with the evocative sound of a bass guitar, it really adds to the euro-vibe of the overall sound. Furthermore, the Morricone influence is heard again in “Take You Down,” which takes the bassy, chugging electric guitars and light, fluttery percussion ideas, and blends them with a clear homage to the familiar guttural ‘scream’ from scores like Navajo Joe and Vamos A Matar Compañeros; the end result is just wonderful.

Having read all this, you might be wondering “where is the orchestra?”, and the truth is that there isn’t much traditional orchestral music to be found here. There’s very little brass work of any kind, and virtually no woodwinds beyond the omnipresent bass flute, so when the more traditional strings come in – as they do during the opening moments of “Into the Lair,” for example – the effect is somewhat unexpected. In fact, the most sweeping moment of orchestral flair comes in the conclusive “The Unfinished Kiss,” during which Pemberton enhances his music with a more traditionally romantic string wash to capture the film’s one unrequited romance. Honestly – and I never thought I would hear myself say this – I don’t miss the orchestra at all. What Pemberton does with his limited ensemble and his specialty instruments is so unique and so creative, a more traditional-sounding score would have drowned out the intricacies.

Other than the orchestra, the one other thing Pemberton’s score really doesn’t have is a strong, memorable main theme. Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme for the original show, while not being one of his most famous, is nevertheless fairly popular, and Pemberton might have referenced it once or twice as some sort of musical nod to his predecessors. Interestingly, Goldsmith is listed in the film’s credits, so it clearly appears somewhere, but I have to admit I didn’t spot it while watching the film, nor did I hear it on the soundtrack CD. Considering the love Joe Kraemer showed to Lalo Schifrin with his score for Mission: Impossible, Pemberton’s omission is a disappointing oversight, the only negative aspect of the score as a whole.

The soundtrack album is rounded out by a series of effortlessly cool period songs and instrumentals, notably Roberta Flack’s sultry “Compared to What,” the psychedelic Tropicália sounds of Brazilian vocalist Tom Zé in “Jimmy Renda Se,” and Solomon Burke’s soulful “Cry to Me,” which is accompanied by one of 2015’s best on-screen dance sequences. The digital only version of the soundtrack also includes four bonus cues – “Red Mist,” “The Switch,” “Warhead,” and “Fists” – which amount to just seven more minutes of music, but do add some other moments of interest. The anguished-sounding “Red Mist” provides more excellent Morricone homage in the vein of Once Upon a Time in the West, while “Warhead” is an exciting piece of action music.

In a year which has produced a number of wonderful espionage scores, ranging from Christophe Beck’s Ant-Man to Joe Kraemer’s Mission Impossible, Henry Jackman’s The Kingsmen and Teddy Shapiro’s Spy, and with a Thomas Newman James Bond score to come later in the fall, 2015 has clearly become the year of the secret agent. It would have been very easy for Daniel Pemberton and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to get lost in the mix. As such, it’s a testament to the young Englishman’s talent that this score is so enjoyable, and so memorable on its own terms. Slip into something more comfortable, fix yourself a martini, and luxuriate.

With thanks to Sara Andon for the impromptu lesson in flute performance techniques!

Buy the Man from U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Compared to What (written by Eugene McDaniels, performed by Roberta Flack) (5:17)
  • Out of the Garage (3:48)
  • His Name is Napoleon Solo (2:39)
  • Escape from East Berlin (4:26)
  • Jimmy Renda Se (written by Antônio José Santana Martins, performed by Tom Zé and Valdez) (3:39)
  • Mission: Rome (2:41)
  • The Vinciguerra Affair (3:22)
  • Bugs, Beats and Bowties (1:53)
  • Cry to Me (written by Bert Burns, performed by Solomon Burke) (2:36)
  • Five Months, Two Weeks, Two Days (written by Don Donaldson and Debbie Morris, performed by Louis Prima) (2:10)
  • Signori Toileto Italiano (2:38)
  • Breaking In (Searching the Factory) (3:05)
  • Breaking Out (The Cowboy Escapes) (2:04)
  • Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera (written by Gaetano Amendola and Roberto Murolo, performed by Peppino Gagliardi) (3:37)
  • Into the Lair (Betrayal, Part I) (1:47)
  • Laced Drinks (Betrayal, Part II) (3:41)
  • Il Mio Regno (written and performed by Luigi Tenco) (2:23)
  • Circular Story (4:03)
  • The Drums of War (5:11)
  • Take You Down (3:27)
  • We Have Location (2:30)
  • A Last Drink (1:49)
  • Take Care of Business (written by Andy Stroud, performed by Nina Simone) (2:05)
  • The Unfinished Kiss (2:53)
  • The Red Mist [DIGITAL BONUS TRACK] (2:11)
  • The Switch [DIGITAL BONUS TRACK] (0:58)
  • Warhead [DIGITAL BONUS TRACK] (2:19)
  • Fists [DIGITAL BONUS TRACK] (1:49)

Running Time: 81 minutes 00 seconds

Watertower Music (2015)

Music composed by Daniel Pemberton. Conducted by Andrew Skeet. Orchestrations by Andrew Skeet. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. theme by Jerry Goldsmith. Special musical performances by David Heath. Recorded and mixed by Sam Okell. Edited by Simon Changer. Album produced by Daniel Pemberton.

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  1. August 19, 2015 at 5:22 am

    You all do a great job in your thoughts and reviews… thank you! I was reading the review on Amazon regarding Avengers II: Age of Ultron and felt your comment was justified. Me personally have not connected to the score yet, will after I watch the film again I am sure or at least some of it… it’s great we are all allowed to have our own opinions, sometimes the comments are not so nice.

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