Home > Reviews > REMINISCENCE – Ramin Djawadi

REMINISCENCE – Ramin Djawadi

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Reminiscence is a fascinating but somewhat flawed neo-noir sci-fi thriller written and directed by Lisa Joy, one of the co-creators of the hit HBO TV series Westworld. The film is set in Miami many years in the future; global warming caused seawater to engulf large parts of the city, resulting in a damaging civil war. During the war a type of sensory-deprivation technology was developed that could make people journey backwards into their own memories, and then have those memories emerge as visual projections so they could be examined in three dimensions by observers. It was initially used as an interrogation technique, but now Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) uses them as his business – entertainment for those who want to escape from the present and briefly revisit their past. Nick is world-weary and perpetually depressed, but his life changes when he meets Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a sultry night club singer, and they embark on a passionate relationship. When Mae suddenly disappears without a trace, Nick resolves to find out what happened to her, using his memory technology as a guide. However, the more Nick searches, the more he gets drawn into a murky world of organized crime, political corruption, and violence around every corner. The film co-stars Thandie Newton and Cliff Curtis, and was released simultaneously into theaters and on HBO Max; unfortunately, the film was a box office disaster, a combination of audience apathy, poor reviews, and COVID hesitancy driving it to the all-time worst opening weekend of a film playing in over 3,000 theaters.

It’s a shame, because the film has a lot going for it. First and foremost, it looks terrific – director Joy and cinematographer Paul Cameron treat the viewer to some truly arresting visuals of a partially submerged Miami – and the setting, in a city decimated by the effects of climate change, is a fascinating one. The film noir pretensions, which give the whole thing an aesthetic similar to Blade Runner, are enhanced by Jackman’s grizzled visage, Ferguson’s excellent performance as a sizzling femme fatale, and a Raymond Chandler-esque voice over which echoes pulp classics like The Maltese Falcon. Unfortunately, the plot is unnecessarily convoluted – something it also shares with Westworld – and the conclusion is something of a downbeat disappointment.

For the score, Joy re-teamed with her Westworld composer Ramin Djawadi, who in turn channels the musical spirit of his long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer. Zimmer’s fingerprints are all over the score, and if one was to resort to similes you could say that Reminiscence is a combination of the guitar-driven minimalism of Inception combined with the overpowering electroacoustic drive of something like Blade Runner 2049. A review of the film in Indiewire calls a lot of what Djawadi wrote “fuzzy cheese guitars,” which is perhaps a little uncharitable, but it’s certainly true that Djawadi seems to be intentionally evoking the dream-like and surreal nature of the score for Inception by writing music that exists in a similarly gauzy state, blurring the lines of what is real and now, and what is an echo of a past memory.

After the darkly-hued opening cue “The Past Can Haunt a Man”- moody guitar riffs, metronomic percussion, ambient electronica – the score’s main theme is introduced in its fullest form in the second cue “Going on a Journey,” which acts as the catalyst of Nick’s quest to discover what happened to Mae. The theme has a determined, resolute sound, driven forward by purposeful percussion, although it still exists within the score’s established sonic world, and again features prominent electric guitars, underpinned with an electronic bass performing an urban groove. This theme for Nick is counterbalanced by a secondary theme representing Mae, her relationship with Nick, and the mystery surrounding who she truly is. Cues like “Messed Up Love” feature Mae’s theme prominently, it is a combination of warmer, more lyrical guitars backed by a jazz percussion combo, and it has a sexier, more alluring vibe that speaks to her career as a chanteuse, and possibly more.

As the score progresses both Nick’s theme and Mae’s theme re-occur regularly, often in deconstructed variations buried deep within the soundscape. A lot of the rest of the score is made up of ambient textures that emphasize the noir mood, building out of the overall atmosphere established in the opening cue, but several cues leave a positive impression. “Memories” is interesting for its use of what sounds like a prepared piano making a dull, thudding sound, which fades in and out of the cue like an echo. “Some Things We Should Never Forget” is a lovely arrangement of Mae’s theme for strings and piano and has a haunted, lamenting quality that is compelling, and adds a hint of tragic depth to her relationship with Nick. “Current of Time” was clearly temp-tracked with Inception, but it is at least conceptually linked so I don’t really mind too much. “Chasing a Ghost” has a cool vibe that is quite compelling, is built around a pulsating guitar riff that is catchy and memorable, and swells to a bold, predominantly orchestral finale that represents perhaps the score’s emotional high point.

A few moments of action and intensity find their way into the score too, via cues like “A Conscience Will Get You Killed,” “The Eel Deal,” the nervous-sounding “Addicted to the Past,” and “Sunken Coast”. Although, again, these tracks exist in very much the same sonic world as the rest of the score, with prominent electric guitars, rock percussion, and driving synth rhythms, Djawadi increases the volume and tempo significantly in them, adding to the intensity and urgency of the various fight scenes, chase scenes, and shootouts. Some of the music here actually feels like a throwback to Djawadi’s score for the original Iron Man movie, albeit with a shabbier and grungier edge; unfortunately, some of these action cues are also exceptionally grating, featuring high end aural distortion, battering ram percussion, and frantic, overwhelming instrumental collisions. “Sunken Coast” is especially torturous in this regard, and may cause some listeners to scramble for the skip button or the volume control.

Unusually, perhaps the score’s most traditionally beautiful music comes via one of the score’s minor themes, representing the Land Barons – the ultra-wealthy denizens who get to live in the dry part of Miami, having unscrupulously profiteered off the regular citizens of the city during the flood and the subsequent war. The Land Barons play an interesting role as the ‘string pullers’ driving several of the film’s major sub plots, and their music has the classical sheen of money and influence; cues like “Walter’s Waltz” and “Land Barons” are lush waltzes for ravishing strings and elegant pianos, and they contrast greatly with the dirty, grimy urban sound of the theme for Nick and Mae – which is, of course, the entire point.

The score’s conclusion, comprising “All Endings Are Sad” and “Tell Me a Story,” moves away from darkness and moves directly to pathos underpinned with a sense of loss, representing Nick’s fate, Mae’s fate, and how those two intertwine with the fate of the city as a whole. “All Endings Are Sad” brings a mournful-sounding electric cello to bear on Nick’s theme, and surrounds it with more reflective electroacoustic textures, while “Tell Me a Story” revisits the gentle piano-based tones of Nick and Mae’s romance with a lonely, bittersweet sense of resolution. The end credits cue, “Reminiscence,” reprises both Nick’s theme and Mae’s theme in prominent fashion, with perhaps the loudest and boldest guitars yet.

Interestingly, fragments of the score’s main theme also work their way into the melody of the original song “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby,” performed on screen by Rebecca Ferguson with her best come-hither tone. Ferguson performs two other standard songs, Cy Coleman’s “I Walk a Little Faster,” and Rodgers & Hart’s “Where or When,” and all three are very good if you like smoky jazz-club performances dripping with sensuality. Unfortunately, the soundtrack’s prominent end credits song, “Save My Love,” performed by the Los Angeles-based rapper Lonr with featured vocals by co-songwriter Amber Mark, is not to my taste at all, and was an instant skip.

Reminiscence is easy to appreciate, but it’s a difficult score to like, mostly due to its intentionally ragged atmosphere and reliance on harsh, aggressive guitars and other electronic elements. The thematic ideas are interesting once you fully identify them, but they do have a tendency to get lost in the mix, drifting away like the insubstantial dream images conjured up by Nick’s recall machines. Some of the jazzy textures are good, the neo-noir atmosphere is appropriate, and the classical pastiche of the Land Barons theme is appealing, but unless you have a high tolerance for, and liking of, murky electroacoustic thriller music, Reminiscence is a score which is not likely to remain at the forefront of your own memory for long.

Buy the Reminiscence soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Past Can Haunt a Man (2:45)
  • Going on a Journey (3:56)
  • I Walk a Little Faster (written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, performed by Rebecca Ferguson) (4:29)
  • Memories (4:50)
  • Messed Up Love (4:44)
  • A Conscience Will Get You Killed (3:32)
  • Walter’s Waltz (2:33)
  • Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby (written by Greg Gonzalez, performed by Rebecca Ferguson) (1:39)
  • Some Things We Should Never Forget (4:22)
  • The Eel Deal (4:25)
  • Where or When (written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Rebecca Ferguson) (1:45)
  • The Stranger I Saw (3:16)
  • Current of Time (3:03)
  • Addicted to the Past (3:37)
  • Moments (2:22)
  • Land Barons (5:20)
  • Chasing a Ghost (4:31)
  • Sunken Coast (5:15)
  • All Endings Are Sad (3:26)
  • Tell Me a Story (2:45)
  • Reminiscence (4:19)
  • Save My Love (written by Elijah Dias, Nasri Atweh, Jeff Gitelman, and Amber Mark, performed by Lonr feat. Amber Mark) (3:14)

Running Time: 79 minutes 59 seconds

Watertower Music (2021)

Music composed by Ramin Djawadi. Conducted by Michael Sobie. Orchestrations by Stephen Coleman. Additional music by William Marriott. Recorded and mixed by Dave Way. Edited by Christopher Kaller. Album produced by Ramin Djawadi.

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