NO ESCAPE – Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
No Escape is an action/thriller/drama directed by John Erik Dowdle, starring Owen Wilson as American businessman Jack Dwyer, who arrives in Southeast Asia to begin a new life with his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters. As his company plans to improve the region’s water quality, the family quickly learns that they’re right in the middle of a political uprising, a situation which reaches boiling point when armed rebels attack the hotel where they’re staying, ordered to kill any foreigners that they encounter. Desperate to survive amid the utter chaos, Jack must find a way to save himself and his loved ones from the violence erupting all around them. The film, which also stars Pierce Brosnan, has unfortunately opened to largely negative reviews, many of which call the film “xenophobic,” “borderline offensive,” and “unpleasant” – the latter of which could also apply to Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders’s difficult original score.
For all their popular and critical successes with recent scores like The Homesman, or A Good Day to Die Hard, or Soul Surfer, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders still often write music which can charitably be described as ‘atmospheric’ in nature. Whereas those other scores make use of strong orchestral palettes, scores like No Escape fall into the category of containing little more than electronic ambiences and sound design elements, very few of which appeal to my ear. Of course, I understand that you have to score the film in front of you, and you have to give the director what he or she wants, and clearly John Erik Dowdle wanted this kind of score. It’s an unnerving, in-your-face, aggressive score which accentuates the ‘stranger in a strange land’ feeling the film conveys, and from that point of view the score does exactly what it should: it puts the listener on edge with a barrage of alien soundscapes and oppressive percussion ideas. However, as an album of standalone music, it leaves quite a lot to be desired.
In the album’s press kit, Sanders describes the palette of the score as being “mainly manipulated Asian percussion and modular Eurorack synths, with some string orchestra,” that he and Beltrami then combined with “production recordings of some street musicians that were recorded on set”. Sanders says that he also recorded his daughter, Roux, “doing a horrible, high-pitched scream” which was then slowed down to help create a long, sustained pad of wailing that channels the young girls’ screams in the film. Once again, the creativity and thought process behind the score is exemplary – as The Homesman showed, their approach is never less than highly intellectual – but the fact remains that, on CD, the score is something of a chore to experience. For almost an hour the score rumbles, grinds, whines, and ticks, presenting cue after cue of unsettling atmospheric mood, with very little that lingers afterwards.
The score opens with “The President’s Toast,” a mishmash of ambient groaning synth tones, complemented by a vague South East Asian feeling that comes by way of the bells, gongs, and chimes that punctuate the cue. These percussion items are clearly inspired by the Gamelan musical traditions of the region, and as such are ethnically and geographically appropriate, but the accompanying beats and rhythms are fairly standard fare; they form the backbone of much of the score, re-appearing in subsequent cues like “Market Research,” “Where’s Lucy,” “Need a New Roof,” the dramatic “South of the Border,” and others. Some of these cues remind me a little of Thomas Newman’s 1998 score for Red Corner, if any of you are familiar with it.
More urgent action music appears in cues like “No Escape,” “Pool Cue,” and “Fighting for Annie,” which are faster and more rhythmic, and “Coup Coup Roux,” “Jack Be Nimble,” and “Embassy Issues,” which are tight and unnerving with their incessant buzzing, in-your-face car horns and sirens, and the processed sound of young Roux Sanders’s screams. Later, “007812” is angry and belligerent, and includes some breathy vocal effects and what sounds like processed throat singing.
The one recurring main theme, which is clearly intended to act as an identity for the Dwyer family, appears with softer, more reflective piano and guitar tones and a light string wash, initially in “Little Dreamer,” and later in several other cues, notably “Rooftop Refuge,” the much-discussed “Roof Toss,” the relieved-sounding “Brothel Refuge,” and the minimalist “Under the Stars,” which has a sort of ‘calm before the storm’ feeling. Towards the end of the score the pretty “Gunshy” features the family theme augmented by the Gamelan percussion ideas, while in “Border Refuge” the theme takes on a cathartic, relief-filled tone which (hopefully) signifies a happy ending. The conclusive “The Story of Lucy” is quite lovely with its more prominent string section and poignant piano writing, but these are really the only bright spots of thematic coherency in a score which is otherwise entirely concerned with rhythm and texture.
In many ways, summarizing the worthiness of a score like No Escape is a difficult task. On the one hand, as I said, it does exactly what it intended to do. It creates an oppressive, unnerving atmosphere of desperation and alienation that perfectly encapsulates the experiences of the film’s protagonists, and leaves you with no doubt about how much danger they are in. As far as it’s merit as a film score is concerned, that’s where it should end. Job done. Unfortunately, as a consumer of a product that can be purchased and experienced away from the film, I have to judge it by those criteria too, and that’s where No Escape fails. Honestly, I just don’t know who this music would appeal to, and unless your favorite genre of music can be described as ‘banging and clanging with some synth tones and a despondent string/piano theme’, I’d suggest giving this one a wide berth.
Buy the No Escape soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- The President’s Toast (2:32)
- No Escape (1:29)
- Little Dreamer (1:07)
- Jack Wakes (1:08)
- Market Research (1:53)
- Coup Coup Roux (2:10)
- Jack Be Nimble (1:59)
- Where’s Lucy (0:56)
- Pool Cue (1:33)
- Rooftop Refuge (1:15)
- Need a New Roof (2:00)
- Roof Toss (3:19)
- Map Quest (2:35)
- Atavistic Jack (1:03)
- The Bike Thief (1:38)
- Embassy Issues (1:52)
- Annie Surrenders (3:24)
- Fighting For Annie (2:04)
- Brothel Refuge (1:40)
- Under the Stars (1:58)
- 007812 (3:06)
- Shall We Gather At the River (2:45)
- Gunshy (2:10)
- South of the Border (2:23)
- Border Refuge (2:12)
- The Story of Lucy (1:31)
- Take Care of You (written and performed by Jim James) (3:39)
Running Time: 55 minutes 34 seconds
Lakeshore Records (2015)
Music composed and arranged by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. Special vocal performances by Roux Sanders. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander and Tyson Lozensky. Edited by Jim Harrison. Album produced by Richard Glasser, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.