Home > Reviews > THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD – Atli Örvarsson


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

An unusual action-comedy buddy movie, The Hitman’s Bodyguard stars Ryan Reynolds as Michael Bryce, who was once one of the world’s most trusted and respected freelance bodyguards, but who fell into disgrace after one of his most high-profile clients was assassinated. Out of the blue Bryce is called back into action several years later; his job is to protect the key witness against the ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator of an east European country, who is about to be put on trial for crimes against humanity. The twist comes from the fact that the witness Bryce is assigned to protect is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), formerly one of the world’s most notorious hitmen, and who was likely responsible for the death of Bryce’s previous client. The film, which was directed by Patrick Hughes and co-stars Gary Oldman and Salma Hayek, was met with generally positive reviews after it opened during the slow end-of-summer period in August 2017.

The score for The Hitman’s Bodyguard is by Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson, who made a name for himself in the late 2000s and early 2010s writing excellent scores for films like Babylon A.D. and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones while based out of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control studio. After several years in California, Örvarsson recently returned home to Akureyri in northern Iceland to help spearhead the musical front of the recent renaissance in Icelandic cinema through scores like Hrútar and Blóðberg; as such, and with the exception of the comedy Edge of Seventeen last year, this is Örvarsson’s most high profile movie score in quite some time. I have always maintained that, while he was at Remote, Örvarsson was one of the most under-appreciated members of Zimmer’s gang, and this is definitely the case now that he’s largely out of the public eye.

Thankfully, scores like The Hitman’s Bodyguard remind is what a great composer Örvarsson is. It is, basically, a rock and blues action score performed by an orchestra, augmented by a large number of contemporary instruments ranging from guitars to Hammond organs, and occasionally enlivened by a joyous Gospel choir. The main theme, “Hitman’s Bodyguard,” is probably the funkiest you will hear this year, a cool collision of electric guitars, ah-woo voices, Hammond organ, brass, percussion, and a killer bass line courtesy of Friðrik Sturluson, who was in a band with Örvarsson back home in Iceland when they were kids. It has the streetwise swagger of Isaac Hayes crossed with a John Barry James Bond cool, and is quite infectious.

Much of the rest of the score continues along these lines, instrumentally, but to his credit Örvarsson offers enough variation to keep the score interesting. The bluesy “Smells Like Ass Back Here” is full of attitude in the way it adds virtuoso harmonica sounds, brushed cymbals, and finger-snapping beats to the mix. “Jag Didn’t Smell Like Ass” is more cool and laid back, with a more prominent Hammond organ jamming effortlessly against the electric guitars.

“One Of The Good Guys?” is a little more tempered and introspective, with a more downbeat piano line offset by a lonely-sounding trumpet and a more downbeat take on the ah-woo Gospel-style vocals from the opening cue. “Kincaid’s Gospel” continues in this vein, allowing the Hammond organ, the electric guitar, and the wordless choir to pick up the world-weary tones of a Southern Baptist revival.

The brooding “Dukovich” characterizes the heritage of the film’s main antagonist with darkly-hued string writing and a tinkling cimbalom, and suggests his evil intent with a more aggressive hard rock attitude in the guitars, percussion, and throbbing strings of the cue’s second half. The first part of the conclusive “Broken Wing” returns to the sentimental pianos from earlier in the score, but transfers the lead melody to an accordion, giving it a definite emotional edge; the finale of the cue, when the Hammond organ takes over, is not exactly celebratory, but has a palpable catharsis that is well rendered.

One additional score cue, “Amsterdam Chase,” was written by Ukrainian composer Dmitri Golovko, who scored director Patrick Hughes’s short film Signs back in 2008, as well as his debut feature Red Hill in 2010. Golovko’s cue is based in a similar orchestral palette to Örvarsson’s, but is actually a little funkier, making excellent use of jazz bass flutes and a bevy of kinetic rhythmic ideas to drive the action along. Ironically, other than the main theme, and as good as Örvarsson’s contributions are, Golovkin’s piece is actually my favorite of the rest of them.

The soundtrack, on Milan Records, is rounded out with a half dozen or so songs, including one fun original track, “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” which was written and performed by Samuel L. Jackson, who clearly now fancies himself as a classic soul singer in the wake of his most recent Capital One commercials, albeit with a LOT more profanity. The other songs are an eclectic bunch, ranging from Lionel Richie’s timeless “Hello” to Junior Well’s “Ships on the Ocean,” Foreigner’s iconic “I Want To Know What Love Is,” and a cover of Leadbelly’s “Black Betty” by Australian alt-rock band Spiderbait.

It’s nice to see Atli Örvarsson back scoring something that has mainstream prominence after a couple of quiet years, and it’s especially fun to see him doing something that’s outside his usual, familiar comfort zone, and doing it well. Although the use of rock and funk music in action-buddy movies is hardly a groundbreaking concept, Örvarsson’s take on the genre is authentic and appealing, and the main theme is genuinely excellent; as such, anyone with an affinity for the music of the 1970s blaxploitation genre, or of John Barry’s more hip jazz scores, will find The Hitman’s Bodyguard very much to their liking.

Buy the The Hitman’s Bodyguard soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Nobody Gets Out Alive (written by Samuel L. Jackson and Atli Örvarsson, performed by Samuel L. Jackson) (3:31)
  • Hello (written and performed by Lionel Richie) (4:06)
  • Hitman’s Bodyguard (3:25)
  • Ships on the Ocean (written by Amos Blakemore, performed by Junior Well’s Chicago Blues Band) (4:07)
  • Smells Like Ass Back Here (2:29)
  • Jag Didn’t Smell Like Ass (2:59)
  • I Want To Know What Love Is (written by Mick Jones, performed by Foreigner) (5:03)
  • Amsterdam Chase (written by Dmitri Golovko) (3:25)
  • Black Betty (written by Huddie William Ledbetter, performed by Spiderbait) (4:16)
  • Little Queenie (written and performed by Chuck Berry) (2:40)
  • One of the Good Guys? (1:47)
  • Kincaid’s Gospel (2:21)
  • Dukovich (4:09)
  • Broken Wing (2:32)
  • Dancing in the Moonlight (written by Sherman Kelly, performed by King Harvest) (2:58)

Running Time: 49 minutes 51 seconds

Milan Records (2017)

Music composed and conducted by Atli Örvarsson. Orchestrations by Julian Kershaw. Additional music by Dimitri Golovko. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Edited by John Warhurst. Album produced by Atli Örvarsson.

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