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FREE GUY – Christophe Beck

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Have you ever felt like your life wasn’t real? Like you were somehow a background character in someone else’s story? That you were destined to be the hero, but no-one ever noticed? This is the basic premise of Free Guy, a new action-comedy from director Shawn Levy. The film stars Ryan Reynolds as Guy, a cheerful bank teller from Free City. He goes to work each day with his best friend, Buddy the security guard, and just seems to accept the fact that every day his bank is robbed, and murder and mayhem seems to continually happen around him. Guy’s life changes forever when he meets ‘Molotov Girl,’ who eventually reveals to him the truth: that Guy is an NPC (non-player character) in an open world video game called Free City, and that she is trying to stop Guy’s entire world from being destroyed.

There’s much more to the story than this basic outline, involving corporate espionage, stolen source code, the nature of sentience, and lots of bubblegum ice cream; it’s also funny, romantic, weird, action-packed exciting, and surprisingly emotional, while also offering some sharp and satirical observations on the nature of gaming culture. It looks fantastic, with clever production design and costumes, and some really dazzling special effects. Reynolds’s co-stars – Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, and Taika Waititi – are all excellent, with Comer standing out especially in the dual role of Molotov Girl and her real-world counterpart Millie. The film was originally due to be released in July 2020, but COVID and everything else pushed the film back more than a year, until it eventually opened in cinemas in August 2021.

The score for Free Guy is by composer Christophe Beck, who previously worked with director Levy on films such as Big Fat Liar in 2002, Cheaper By the Dozen in 2003, The Pink Panther in 2006, Date Night in 2010, and The Internship in 2013. Beck had a busy beginning to 2021, writing some excellent music for the first Marvel TV series Wandavision, but in terms of theatrical films this is his first real major release since Frozen II in the winter of 2019, and it’s good to see him back. Free Guy is a fun contemporary orchestral action score, at times light-hearted and charming, at times unexpectedly powerful. Its only real weakness is the fact that, at times, it feels somewhat generic and non-descript, but having seen the film and understood what it was going for, I actually wonder whether this was intentional. Guy’s whole persona is that of a non-descript, bland character, someone blending into the background of someone else’s story. He’s blue shirt guy, khaki pants guy, a faceless no-one who no-one remembers… until the film’s second half, when he becomes the instigator of his own destiny, and the savior of his universe . It doesn’t seem outside the realms of possibility that Levy and Beck would go super meta within their own score discussions, and try to come up with a sound for the film that SOUNDS generic, because Guy is – at least at the beginning of the film – genericness personified.

Guy’s Theme, as presented in the opening cue “Have a Great Day,” is a perfect distillation of his character: unironically chipper, filled with childlike optimism and naiveite, a man who is genuinely pleased to go to work at the bank, and get robbed a dozen times each day. Beck’s orchestrations are bucolic – pizzicato strings, a pleasant wash – with some undulating synth textures which subtly insinuate the electronic video game setting of Guy’s life. Guy’s theme is present through much of the film, but it changes in lockstep with the character. It also forms the basis of many of the action cues that underscore Guy’s interactions with various players, including Molotov Girl/Millie, as well as the epic chase sequence that erupts when two video designers dressed, respectively, as a 1970s cop and a huge six foot pink rabbit, drop into the game to try to find out what is happening to Guy and why. It’s not an especially memorable theme in terms of prominent melodic content, but it certainly captures Guy’s personality and his sunny outlook on life.

The action music is slick and exciting, with a large and imposing orchestral presence, plenty of insistent rhythmic content, and – as mentioned above – several variations upon and allusions to Guy’s theme that slowly start to make him the focus of attention. The revelatory second half of “Sunglasses,” and subsequent cues like “About to Get Shot” and “Two Glocks,” are good examples of Beck’s action style. The former of these underscores the aforementioned cop-bunny chase with some exciting writing for brass, while the latter adopts some cool rock music stylistics through the prominent use of drum kit percussion. There are also some moments of suspense and tension, notably in cues such as “Stash House Fail,” which underscore the scenes in which Guy and/or Molotov Girl try to break into the in-game home of another player to steal an important piece of code. These cues are mostly typified by low-key string textures and ambient electronic tones that create a mildly unsettling atmosphere.

The two final elements that come into play are the film’s Love Theme, and the Inspirational Theme that drives much of the film’s second half, and a lot of its finale. The Love Theme first makes its appearance in “Ice Cream,” underscoring the scene where Guy and Molotov Girl stroll around one of Free City’s rare quiet neighborhoods, eating ice cream and talking about their lives, while up in the ‘real world’ Molotov Girl’s controller, Millie, finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with the pixels on her screen. The love theme was adapted, at the request of the director, from the theme Beck wrote for the Oscar-winning animated short film Paperman in 2012, and is a lovely piece for piano and electronics which eventually melts into warm, pretty, inviting strings. Meanwhile, the Inspirational Theme begins in “It’s All a Lie,” the film’s crucial turning point, which underscores Guy’s revelation and realization about the reality of what Free City actually is, and what that means for him on an existential level. Beck scores this earth-shattering news initially with melancholy synth textures, which often swell into larger orchestral-and-choral chords that try to capture the enormity of the revelation, while the repetitiveness of the synth ostinato underneath the music reflects the repetitiveness of Guy’s existence.

What’s interesting about this, however, is that Guy somehow turns this monumentally negative revelation into a positive, and he uses it to invigorate his fellow NPCs into helping Molotov Girl/Millie save their world, with Beck following suit with his music and how he phrases this theme going forward. After the dark and vivid action of “Rebooted,” and the sweeping dance-inflected use of the love theme in “I Remember Everything” when Molotov Girl kisses Guy to bring his program back online, the Inspirational Theme comes back prominently in both “On Strike “ and “This Ends Now”. These two cues offer superb, sweeping, optimistic variations on a theme which was downtrodden, almost angry, not long before, and its testament to Beck’s skill that the theme is able to be converted in this way. There are hints of Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight scores here in some of the percussion writing, and in the way the brass builds, which will undoubtedly please fans of those scores.

The five cues from “It’s Go Time” through to the end of “Tables Turn” is an 8-minute action sequence underscoring the finale of the film, in which Guy and Molotov Girl race through the streets of Free City trying to find the piece of evidence that is needed to save them all, while up in the real world Millie and her business partner Keys try to stop the evil game developer Antwan from erasing all the Free City data – and Guy himself – forever. “It’s Go Time” features a superb action setting of Guy’s theme on a growling electric guitar, surrounded by all manner of epic action stylings. “Hitman’s Beach” uses throbbing cello ostinatos to bring another level of super-hero panache to the score. “Getting Hectic” brings some EDM-like dance music vibes to the proceedings, while “Dude” is pure, all-out orchestral brutality, underscoring a fight sequence that has a similar level of cartoonish violence. The conclusive “Tables Turn” is Guy’s hero moment, and although it’s slightly disappointing that the soundtrack wasn’t able to include the brilliant in-movie quotes of Silvestri’s Avengers theme, or Williams’s Star Wars main title, that are heard here, it’s still good as it stands.

“Reunited” is the climax of the film’s love story, which sees Guy and Molotov Girl – having realized their respective destinies lie along different paths – part way as friends; then, in the real world, Millie finally realizes that the reason Guy fell in love with her, and she fell in love with Guy, is because Keys poured all of himself and his love for Millie into the source code of Guy when he wrote it, and he and Guy are essentially mirrors of each other. The Love Theme comes back for one final sweeping statement here as Millie and Keys embrace in the middle of a New York street; this then leads into the conclusive “Life Itself,” which shows Guy, Buddy, and all the other NPCs living life freely, as they were always meant to do. Guy’s Theme and the Inspirational Theme come together here in a warm, optimistic, uplifting final combination that ends the score on a positive note.

As I mentioned earlier, the score for Free Guy likely won’t be well-remembered in the future, as the themes aren’t strong enough or prominent enough to linger in the memory, but when you study it closely it’s still impressive how much mileage Beck gets out of Guy’s theme, in terms of how many different settings and variations it undergoes as Guy himself develops and changes from zero to hero. The love theme is pretty, the action is exciting, and it works really well in the film, although in context it does tend to play second fiddle to the numerous pop and rock songs that underscore much of the in-game action, Grand Theft Auto style. You likely won’t be able to stop humming Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” for days. However, as an undemanding diversion, you could do much worse than Free Guy, and it’s a nice memento of a really good film.

Buy the Free Guy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Have a Great Day (2:39)
  • Cappuccino (1:29)
  • Sunglasses (2:31)
  • About to Get Shot (2:53)
  • A New Day (1:16)
  • Stash House Fail (1:16)
  • Two Glocks (2:14)
  • Ice Cream (2:31)
  • Guy’s Guise (2:11)
  • It’s All a Lie (2:20)
  • Rebooted (2:02)
  • I Remember Everything (2:02)
  • On Strike (1:23)
  • This Ends Now (2:29)
  • It’s Go Time (1:26)
  • Hitman’s Beach (2:30)
  • Getting Hectic (1:48)
  • Dude (1:32)
  • Tables Turn (1:07)
  • Reunited (3:24)
  • Life Itself (1:43)

Running Time: 42 minutes 33 seconds

Hollywood Records (2021)

Music composed by Christophe Beck. Conducted by Tim Davies. Orchestrations by Tim Davies, Kevin Kliesch, Jeremy Levy and Ryan Humphrey. Additional music by Jeff Morrow, Michael Paraskevas and Tyler Westen. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Fernand Bos. Album produced by Christophe Beck.

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