The new thriller Sicario (starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) opens today in limited release, and early reviews suggest that it may be an awards contender. The same holds true for the score. This is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s second collaboration with director Denis Villeneuve (following Prisoners) and his first major work since last year’s critically acclaimed The Theory of Everything. The first of these was dark and brooding, the second light and romantic ~ if anything, a bit too slight. But Sicario (Hitman) brings the muscle, along with a 65-piece orchestra and the sublime cello of Hildur Gudnadóttir.
Ordinarily reviewers comment on film scores after seeing how they work in the context of the film. While this review is an exception, the best thing that can be written about this score is how well it works on its own. The set-up of the short opening track leads to the oppressive “The Beast”, an early highlight that sounds just like its title as the bass lumbers forward on thick, muscular legs. Something wicked this way comes. It’s great to hear Jóhannsson tackle this sort of work, as it’s not known to be in his wheelhouse; now we stand corrected. As the drums of “The Border” begin to pound, the orchestra swirls like locusts. Now we’re excited for the movie, and the chance to hear this music on the loudest, largest sound system. And how often does a soundtrack make one feel this way? It’s usually the other way around: see the movie, own the souvenir.
Many of these themes continue throughout the world: strings that lurk and attack, drums that pound and pounce. “Surveillance” offers the harshest of these: distorted percussion that seems to have been filtered through a garbage disposal unit. The tension seldom eases, and when it does, it’s not for long. “Desert Music” provides the sort of sound we’re more accustomed to hearing from the composer; and that’s certainly Gudnadóttir playing, plumbing the beautiful depths. The choral closer, “Alejandro’s Song”, implies a stark ending, but this may also be intuited from the trailer below.
Few scores survive scrutiny as stand-alone works, but Sicario seems to be the exception. The question this time: will the movie live up to the score? (Richard Allen)