Home > Reviews > POINT OF NO RETURN – Hans Zimmer



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Point of No Return, also known as The Assassin, is an action thriller film directed by John Badham, and is a remake of the 1990 French film La Femme Nikita directed by Luc Besson. The story follows Maggie Hayward (Bridget Fonda), a drug-addicted criminal who is sentenced to death for her involvement in a robbery that resulted in a police officer being killed. However, instead of being executed, she is given the opportunity to become a government assassin under the guidance of her handler, Bob (Gabriel Byrne). Maggie undergoes intensive training and transformation to become a skilled and professional killer; she is given a new identity as Claudia and is sent on missions to eliminate high-level targets. Along the way, she becomes involved in a romantic relationship with J. P. (Dermot Mulroney), a man who works as a computer expert for Bob. However, things take a dark turn when Maggie’s loyalty is questioned, and she must decide whether to continue her life as a killer or to risk everything to escape and start anew. The film co-starred Anne Bancroft and Harvey Keitel in major supporting roles, and was popular box office success, which cemented the-then 28-year old Bridget Fonda’s status as a viable leading lady.

The score for Point of No Return was by Hans Zimmer, with additional music by Nick Glennie-Smith, and is one of his landmark action scores of the early 1990s. It combines the aggressive orchestral ‘power anthem’ sound of things like Black Rain and Backdraft with the heavier electric guitar sound of scores like Days of Thunder, and then some of the film noir elements from scores like Pacific Heights, including turning the jazzy/bluesy vocals from that score into something new here that is possibly best described as ‘rock gospel’. The whole thing is anchored by a superb recurring theme for Maggie that somehow emphasizes both her femininity and her ruthless killer instinct at the same time, and the moments where the theme kicks in represent some of the most satisfying Zimmer melodic moments of that era.

The soundtrack album is structured as four lengthy suites of 7½ minutes, 5½ minutes, 8 minutes, and 5 minutes, each containing two or three cues edited together; it’s non-chronological – the final part of track one is actually the film’s end credits – which means that any logical narrative and thematic development is abandoned in favor of a better listening experience, but that listening experience is actually so good that it probably doesn’t matter.

The opening track, “Hate,” mostly underscores the film’s opening sequence in which a drug-addled Maggie shoots and kills a Washington DC cop during a robbery, is convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and actually makes it all the way to the execution chamber before the CIA intervenes and offers her a new life. Zimmer’s music for Maggie’s former life is dark, angry, and aggressive; a bank of propulsive keyboard textures underpinned by strutting string rhythms, rock percussion, roaring electric guitar solos by virtuoso Bob Daspit, muted trumpets, and throaty, jazz/gospel-style vocalizations by Sam Ellis. There is a dirty, grungy edge to this sound, perfect at depicting Maggie’s derelict life, but there’s something undeniably cool about it too, like a contemporary film noir.

Eventually around the 5:00 mark the music segues into what is actually the film’s end credits sequence, and presents the score’s most sweeping statement of Maggie’s theme, a memorable melodic idea which treads a fine line between depicting Maggie’s vulnerability, her dangerous past, and her optimism for a better life. This is a perfect example of the type of Zimmer writing that appealed to me so much at the time; simple, straightforward, emotional melodic content that blended film music with elements of prog rock in superbly satisfying ways.

“Happy Birthday, Maggie” is a two-part cue which underscores a scene where the newly refined and elegant Maggie is taken out for a dinner-date to an upmarket restaurant for her birthday, only to learn that the whole thing was set up as a pretext for her to assassinate a VIP eating at the same restaurant. The first half is more low-key, a little abstract in its layering of sampled percussive sounds, strings, keyboard textures, trumpets, and guitars, although there are still allusions to Maggie’s theme in the chords. However, the second half of the cue is brighter, almost excitedly upbeat, as Zimmer arrays Maggie’s theme with some of the light rock and new age elements from scores like Rain Man, complete with poppy trumpet performances and cascading strings. One thing I did notice, to my amusement, is the fact that the prancing string figures that underpin Maggie’s theme here remind me very much of Pierluigi Giombini’s music that accompanied the 1980s Ferrero Rocher chocolate commercials, which were intended to convey that the chocolates were supposed to be the height of sophistication. Monsieur, with these Rocher you’re really spoiling us!

The first half of “Wedding Bells” underscores another assassination action scene, this one taking place in New Orleans; the music turns darker and more sinister here, with ominous keyboard thrums, staccato string figures, and mournfully bluesy trumpets. Slowly it becomes bigger and more intense, with clattering percussion and more insistent rhythmic ideas, and eventually re-introducing the wail of Daspit’s electric guitar to really add a sense of danger to Maggie’s new day job. The second half of “Wedding Bells” underscores an earlier scene where Maggie first meets Anne Bancroft’s character Amanda, the senior operative in charge of the department responsible for training her. Maggie’s theme is prominent here, but a little restrained and hesitant, indicative of the less-than-trusting relationship between the pair. I love the smoky, jazzy vibe of parts of this cue, which adds an additional layer of seductive mystery to the whole thing.

The final cue, “Hell’s Kitchen,” is another assassination action set piece, and in many ways is a mirror of the film’s opening sequence, showing how, despite her training and makeover, parts of Maggie’s former life and attitude remain. Sam Ellis’s penetrating gospel vocalizations play off against a new, interesting rhythmic idea that moves around the keyboards and the strings, and is eventually joined by more howling electric guitars, piano riffs, and rock percussion. It has swagger and a real bad-ass attitude that is enthralling, especially for anyone who – like me – has ever gravitated towards the instrumental parts of rock and symphonic metal albums. The cue does tail off towards the end, however, and a further reprise of Maggie’s theme to close things out may have offered a more rewarding conclusion, but it’s a minor quibble in what is otherwise a terrific half hour of music.

The second half of the album is given over entirely to five songs performed by legendary jazz singer Nina Simone. Maggie has a fascination with Simone – even calling herself Nina at some points in the film as a pseudonym – and so their use is important in terms of adding depth to the character’s personality. There’s also the possibility that Maggie’s love of Simone influenced Zimmer’s decision to use jazz/gospel voices in his score, and it that’s true than kit’s an excellent example of Zimmer understanding the musical whole of his film. There’s a cover of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” her version of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s “Feeling Good” from the 1964 musical ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd,’ the scandalous two Simone original “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” her version of Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin’s “Wild is the Wind” from the 1957 film of the same name, and then a version of the traditional folk tune “Black Is the Color (Of My True Love’s Hair)” rendered in Simone’s inimitable personal style.

Point of No Return is a classic early-90s Zimmer action score, typical of his style at the time, and for me is one of the most enjoyable works of that type. The theme for Maggie is outstanding, especially its knockout performances at the end of “Hate” and “Happy Birthday, Maggie, ”while the cool, grungy, rock-gospel inflections give it a flavor all of its own. Considering that 2023 marks the film’s thirtieth anniversary I would like to see an expanded version of this score, split down in to cues and re-ordered in a more dramatically sensible way – but until that happens this album remains an easy recommendation for fans of Zimmer’s power anthem heyday.

Buy the Point of No Return soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hate (7:26)
  • Happy Birthday, Maggie (5:36)
  • Wedding Bells (8:06)
  • Hells Kitchen (5:08)
  • Here Comes the Sun (written by George Harrison, performed by Nina Simone) (3:35)
  • I Want a Little Sugar In My Bowl (written and performed by Nina Simone) (2:31)
  • Feeling Good (written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, performed by Nina Simone) (2:53)
  • Wild Is The Wind (written by Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin, performed by Nina Simone) (6:57)
  • Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair (traditional, performed by Nina Simone) (3:26)

Running Time: 45 minutes 38 seconds

RCA Records 66225-2 (1993)

Music composed and arranged by Hans Zimmer. Additional music by Nick Glennie-Smith. Special vocal performances by Sam Ellis. Featured musical soloist Bob Daspit. Recorded and mixed by Jay Rifkin. Edited by Alex Gibson and Sherry Whitfield. Album produced by Hans Zimmer and Jay Rifkin.

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