Home > Reviews > THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD – Brian Tyler


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a new action/drama/thriller from director Taylor Sheridan, the man behind such acclaimed films as Sicario and Hell or High Water, as well as the popular TV series Yellowstone. The film stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah, a firefighter in rural Montana left traumatized by a tragedy during a forest fire a year previously. Hannah is forced to confront her demons and overcome her fears when she meets a teenage boy named Connor in the forest; he is being tracked by two ruthless assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult), who were hired by a shadowy organization and have already eliminated Connor’s father. As Hannah and Connor attempt to reach safety, the killers set a new blaze in the forest, which quickly spirals out of control, and threatens to burn everything to the ground. The film was adapted from the popular novel by Michael Koryta, and also stars Jon Bernthal, Jake Weber, and Medina Senghore.

The movie is actually a decent little thriller, but its main drawback is Angelina Jolie herself. She is woefully miscast as a tough-as-nails elite smokejumper, suffering beautifully through her trauma with her professional eye makeup and supermodel hair, despite her living and working in a rural community and spending most of her time in a lookout tower far away from a beauty salon. She tries gamely through some of the fight scenes, and tries to act like one of the boys by cussing up a storm and chugging beers, but she seems so ridiculously out of place that it almost ruins the realism of the movie. Everything else is really good, especially the banter between Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult as the chatty and sarcastic hitmen, and some of the fire effects are quite spectacular.

The score for Those Who Wish Me Dead is by Brian Tyler, who has been working with director Sheridan for several years now scoring Yellowstone. It’s been a comparatively quiet couple of years for Tyler; although he worked on six movies in 2019, he only scored one movie in 2020 (the music-themed drama Clouds), and he hasn’t had a real box office success since Crazy Rich Asians back in 2018. His score for Those Who Wish Me Dead has a little bit in common with the score for Yellowstone, in that both seek to musically illustrate the contemporary American west, but where Those Who Wish Me Dead differs is in that it has more emphasis on action and suspense.

In an interview with Vikram Lakhanpal for Film Score Monthly, Tyler revealed that he literally set a cello on fire and played it for as long as he could while it was burning, as part of his thematic identity for the fire itself. This thematic idea is one of many running through the score. Tyler describes the fire theme as having “atonal, aleatoric parts, a menacing, angry force.” He goes on to say “with the villains, there’s an intelligence and methodology to them. For them, woodwinds were a huge part of the score … I recorded them separately and used them as beds of chordal progressions and mysterious, distant, haunting textures. I also used this odd-metered ostinato that was associated with the villains … relentless. moving forward in this intelligent but cold way, like the mechanics of a sociopathic mind, being represented by very metric but odd-metered ostinatos and woodwinds. You have the fire, relentlessly marching forward, and then there’s this asymmetric tempo, creating this clash of randomness on one side and purpose on the other. As the fire moves closer, the orchestra becomes engulfed with the sonic quality of the fire, with the woodwinds and brass bellows creating this physical wind moving through. The idea of air moving was a big part of the score, like when you’re next to a fire, you can feel its breath. We definitely wanted anything involving winds, given the way they’re played.”

The final thematic idea in the score is a more melancholic identity that relates to both Hannah and Connor and the losses they have suffered. This theme, dubbed the ‘heartbreak’ theme by Tyler, moves between piano and horns and strings and has a tragic quality to it that is quite moving, but it also has the ability to be re-framed as a more anthemic and powerful theme, especially when the score required a more dominant sense of heroism and resolve. This main theme is prominent in the title cue, “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” which is dramatic and intense and has a similar vibe to Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight trilogy scores in the way Tyler layers bold horns against string ostinatos and relentless percussion. There are several further variations on the heartbreak theme, including one in which prominent electronics are counterbalanced by minimalist pianos in “Elegy for a Soul.” The haunting “Opus” uses whining electronic manipulation and collapsing brass chords to give it a slightly tortured sound, and then emerges into a loud and pulsating action sequence in its second half. “Lament” is just how you would imagine it to sound, slow and intimate and a little abstract.

The motif for the assassins starts to work its way into the score in “The Love of a Father,” the pivotal turning point for Connor and the beginning of the three-way fight for survival between Hannah, Connor, and the assassins, each against the fire. The musical identities for the different elements begin to come together in cues such as “Mind Heart Conflation,” which often plays one or more of them in counterpoint to illustrate their conflict, and also introduces some nervous sounding guitar textures into the sound palette.

As the score builds through its final third the two ideas for the humans in the story find their themes being overcome by the tortured, aggressively dissonant ideas for the fire, as it eats away around and through everything it touches. You get brief hints of this in cues like “Embers,” but by the time cues like “Shadow Mechanics” and “Lightning Strikes” come around the score is at times quite harshly unpleasant and grating; rather than having similarities to Zimmer’s Dark Knight scores, it is now starting to veer into Dunkirk, Blade Runner, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix territory with its overbearing electronic manipulation and walls of noise. One particularly chilling sound effect in “Shadow Mechanics” sounds like someone gasping for air, perhaps through a fire fighter’s respirator.

“A Burning Cello” is the cue where you can hear Tyler’s performance of the instrument while it is literally on fire – the music is harshly dissonant and includes the sound of the strings popping, the bow collapsing, and the whole thing turning to ash. I understand what Tyler is doing here – he’s commenting on the unstoppable, implacable, animalistic nature of fire with music that is intended to be unsettling and unrepentant – and in film context it certainly makes the scenes in which the forest fire is marching relentlessly towards the protagonists have a sense of danger, but it’s a harsh listen away from it.

The score’s climax – comprising “Zero Sum Game,” “The Calm Inside the Storm,” and “Ultimatum” – is a combination of the aggressive, energetic orchestral action music and the more ambient and unnerving electro-acoustic dissonance, peppered with statements of the heartbreak theme and the motif for the assassins. There are long sequences of this challenging sound design that may cause some listeners to reach for the skip button, but the all-action finale of “Ultimatum” is certainly worth waiting for. The conclusive “Those Who Wish Me Dead Finale” provides an appropriate coda to the score, and features an impressive and emotionally strong final rendition of the main heartbreak theme for the full orchestra that is very satisfying.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a decent score. The intellectual and conceptual ideas behind the score – the interrelated themes and the way Tyler tried to capture the nature of fire itself – are impressive and clearly show him to be a composer very much in tune with his film and what his director needs. The end result, however, doesn’t really bear fruit in the same way. The main theme is good, and the action is exciting, but a little too much of it gets lost in the same sort of abstract groaning and electronic sound design that has infected too many of Hans Zimmer’s prominent action and sci-fi works of late, to the extent that it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd in the way that many of Tyler’s earlier scores did. I’m really pleased that Brian Tyler has a major score in theaters, though, and with Fast & Furious 9, Escape Room 2, and the re-boot of Scream coming down the pipeline, he seems to be well on his way to re-establishing the primary position in the film music hierarchy he enjoyed in the early 2010s.

Buy the Those Who Wish Me Dead soundtracks from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Those Who Wish Me Dead (Main Theme) (4:05)
  • Elegy for a Soul (2:20)
  • Opus (5:11)
  • Lament (2:36)
  • Embers (4:16)
  • The Beauty of Time (2:21)
  • Glimmer of Hope (1:18)
  • The Love of a Father (2:06)
  • Shadow Mechanics (7:07)
  • Presence (2:35)
  • Mind Heart Conflation (3:29)
  • Lightning Strikes (5:08)
  • A Burning Cello (2:44)
  • Zero Sum Game (4:23)
  • The Calm Inside the Storm (1:05)
  • Ultimatum (7:21)
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead Finale (4:06)

Running Time: 62 minutes 19 seconds

Watertower Music (2021)

Music composed and conducted by Brian Tyler. Orchestrations by Dana Niu, Robert Elhai and Brad Warnaar. Recorded and mixed by Greg Hayes, Frank Wolf and Brian Tyler. Edited by Joe Lisanti. Album produced by Brian Tyler and Joe Lisanti.

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