Home > Reviews > GREYHOUND – Blake Neely

GREYHOUND – Blake Neely

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Greyhound is a World War II action thriller directed by Aaron Schneider, and written by Tom Hanks, who adapted the novel The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, the creator of the great fictional British naval hero Captain Horatio Hornblower. Hanks himself plays Ernest Krause, a commander in the United States Navy, who is charged with escorting and protecting a multi-national fleet of ships across the Atlantic, while it is under attack from Nazi German U-Boats. The film co-stars Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, and Elisabeth Shue, and is a classic claustrophobic cat-and-mouse naval thriller in the tradition of Das Boot, Run Silent Run Deep, and Sink the Bismarck, the latter of which was also based on a Forester novel. The film was initially scheduled to be released in cinemas in June 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and eventually premiered straight-to-streaming on the Apple TV+ platform.

Greyhound is the first film director Schneider has made in over a decade, since the quirky drama Get Low from 2009, which was scored by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek. For Greyhound, Schneider secured the services of composer Blake Neely, who with this score is making a rare foray into mainstream theatrical movies. Neely is best known these days for his work as the lead composer of The CW’s Arrowverse – including the TV shows Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and Batwoman – which he has scored with his co-composers Nathaniel Blume, Daniel James Chan, and Sherri Chung since the project began in 2012. Alongside this, Neely has also been a recurring member of Hans Zimmer’s team, conducting, orchestrating, and providing additional music on a variety of projects ranging from Pirates of the Caribbean and The Last Samurai to King Arthur, The Da Vinci Code, and The Pacific. It is likely this last title that got Neely the job for Greyhound (Hanks was an executive producer), but anyone who enjoyed the broad patriotism and orchestral heroism of that score is likely to find Greyhound a very different work; in fact, it has more in common with Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk than anything else in recent memory, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view.

Long-time readers of this site will know that I found the score for Dunkirk to be quite terrible, for a myriad of reasons that I’m not going to repeat here. As such, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that, despite its many sonic similarities, I actually found Greyhound to be a much more satisfying musical experience. The difference, I think, comes from the fact that on this film Neely had a much broader range of emotional targets to hit than Zimmer did, and as such was able to create a more compelling narrative through his music. On Dunkirk Zimmer was, in many ways, hamstrung by his director Christopher Nolan, whose insistence on stocking his film with personality-free avatars instead of well-rounded characters gave Zimmer no-one to focus on. This was compounded by Nolan’s musical taste, which eschews any overt emotion in favor of dispassionate rhythm and texture. In the end, Zimmer could only provide the film with surface wallpaper, and couldn’t delve any deeper, because there was nowhere deeper for him to go. Neely, on Greyhound, doesn’t have that problem.

The instrumental palette for Greyhound is very similar to Dunkirk’s; heavy strings, heavy brass, heavy percussion, electronic sound effects and synthesized manipulation, and an overall ‘metallic’ sheen which suggests solid military apparatus in a harsh, mechanical environment. Neely says that, although it is a period piece, he saw the film almost like a horror movie, with a predator and a prey going back and forth throughout, which inspired his choice to make it an orchestral-electronic hybrid. The thing that makes Greyhound an impressive work is Neely’s clever use of these basic elements, and the way he constantly finds ways to change tempo, rhythm, texture, and combinations of these instruments, to keep the soundtrack interesting. Every single cue is made up of the same tonal palette, with only a few recurring themes that I could easily identify, but there is something in almost every track – a new rhythmic idea, a way of layering brass against percussion, or something else – that makes the score consistently entertaining and surprising.

The two main themes for Greyhound both relate to Krause’s inner monologue, but neither of them are revealed fully until the end of the score. The most prominent of the two is the theme heard in the conclusive “But At What Cost,” and is intended to represent the overall nature of war, but also to show a sense of relief that Krause and his men have survived the encounter, as well as to offer perhaps a touch of patriotic pride at a job well done. The theme has a noble, hymn-like attitude, and when it reaches for its heights – as it does during that superb final cue – it is both poignant and moving. The second theme is more elegiac, more of a lament, and is heard in its entirety during “Lost Souls.” This theme is anchored around a beautiful violin solo performed by Camille Miller, and recognizes the specific loss of life endemic to all wars, and the death and carnage such actions bring. Both themes appear in fragmented form throughout the score, notably in the opening cue “First Crossing,” but it is not until the battle is over that the catharsis is earned, and the full theme is finally revealed.

The final recurring element in the score is a motif for Grey Wolf, Thomas Kretschmann’s taunting U-Boat commander, who hunts Krause and his ships across thousands of miles of open ocean. The Grey Wolf motif is a creepy, wailing cry of distorted electronics, which can be heard numerous times in numerous cues – most notably at 1:00 in “Distress Signal,” 1:14 in “Nightfall Dangers,” and at the beginning of “Surrounded,” for example – a frightening marker of his looming presence. Neely calls this motif his version of John Williams’ iconic Jaws two note motif – you might not be able to see him, but the audience knows he’s there, lurking just below the surface.

The rest of the score is all about gritted-teeth tension, punctuated by moments of action music that often roars to life with brass-led explosions of noise and percussive intensity. Large chunks of the score meander through long periods of textural orchestral-and-electronic droning, which some may find very un-palatable; this is where the score most resembles scores like Dunkirk, which was nothing but relentless tension and anguish. Greyhound’s superiority comes via the numerous moments of bold action, wherein Neely offers numerous frantic and complicated percussion patterns, vivid string ostinatos, and grand volleys of sound and fury from the brass section. There are far too many of these moments to note them all, but I will highlight a few I found to be especially satisfying: these include the sequence starting at 6:15 in “From Beneath,” everything after the 3:00 mark in “Surrounded,” almost all of “It’s Not Enough,” all throughout the incredibly intense “Here They Come,” the majority of the riveting “Torpedoes,” and the frenetic and pulse-pounding “Bring Hell Down From On High” which regularly erupts into breakneck string runs, punctuated by emphatic brass calls, energetic percussion, and howling statements of the Grey Wolf motif.

Overall, Greyhound is a mixed bag. There is a lot – and I mean a lot – of angry-sounding orchestral and electronic sound design that may immediately turn off listeners not attuned to that kind of writing. However, for those willing to put in a bit of work, and have some patience, there are some moments of genuinely terrific action music, as well as some moments of patriotic-yet-bittersweet harmonic orchestral consonance towards the end of the score which fans of Neely’s work on scores like The Pacific will thoroughly enjoy. I hate to keep coming back to Dunkirk, as if that is the only frame of reference, but Zimmer’s is a famous Oscar-nominated score, and the best way I can describe Greyhound to a layman would be “if someone used Dunkirk’s sound palette and general approach, but increased the tonal quality of the action music, and kept all the themes and the emotion”.

Buy the Greyhound soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • First Crossing (4:23)
  • I’ll Always Be Looking For You (1:17)
  • Huff Duff (6:35)
  • From Beneath (9:13)
  • First Kill (1:03)
  • Distress Signal (2:58)
  • Nightfall Dangers (4:47)
  • Dog Watch (1:01)
  • Surrounded (5:33)
  • It’s Not Enough (3:03)
  • Here They Come (2:14)
  • Out of Depth (2:26)
  • Torpedoes (6:10)
  • Lost Souls (4:27)
  • Ships Passing In The Night (3:10)
  • Scrambled Message (2:03)
  • Bring Hell Down From On High (6:51)
  • But At What Cost? (9:40)

Running Time: 76 minutes 55 seconds

Lakeshore Records (2020)

Music composed and conducted by Blake Neely. Orchestrations by Blake Neely. Recorded and mixed by Greg Hayes. Edited by Angela Klaverie. Album produced by Blake Neely.

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