Reviews - Wanted

Review by Bluntinstrument

THE FILM: A rogue assassin is killing his way through his old order and only the unwitting son of the greates of them can even the score. For such a simple premise, director Timur Bekmambetov (of eye-popping Nightwatch/Daywatch fame) surprises in delivering a movie that not only delivers in violence and adrenalin but also allows some room for characterisation and plot. Angelina Jolie is Angelina Jolie (although she goes by the name 'Fox'), worth her femme fatale weight in eye-liner, tattoos and pouting lips. She and fellow crowd-puller Morgan Freeman (as Fraternity order leader Sloan) are sketched economically as they are clearly typecast in all the right ways: both do enigmatic like a code machine. The real pleasures of the film are the unexpected ones. James McAvoy, known in the US mainly for his period dramas, not only carries the film well, he turns what could have been a simple cardboard loser-everyman role into a sympathetic and alive character - a crucial hook amid what should be shocking carnage and casual collatoral damage. Bekmambetov also drops in some interesting international genre side-characters: note the Russian Konstantin Khabensky of Nightwatch/Daywatch; note assassin nemesis Cross, played by German Thomas Kretschmann (whom I remember from the morally dubious Immortel (ad vitam)); note the punchmeister, played by Marc Warren, popular in UK television for the series Hustle. There are others too, and it all adds up to a pretty eclectic (and therefore presumably politically neutral) cast, which helps give the film a less run-of-the-mill feel. That and the extravagant action sequences.
Don't you love a good montage? The score producers promote Danny's latest to top spot behind his slightly lack-lustre but highly efficient rock song (which might also be recognised as 'Bad things come in twos'). 'Success Montage' does exactly what it says on the tin: using two principal themes of the film, Elfman gradually ratchets up the texture and volume. The midi percussion and thumping strings start tentative but set the pulse; the main lyrical theme (Wes' Theme) is passed with building confidence between strings and wind groups, before entering into a central development section (the theme is fragmented, orchestral groups juggle, tonal shifts gradually lose direction); at 2'30" a tonal centre is reached only to be interrupted by a new menacing motif which heralds a resurgence of midi percussion, with repeated string chords reaching a headbanging a 4/4 measure by the end of the track) - this keeps the blood pounding but also outlines the other, more wicked, main theme of the film, highlighted by flutes just before it crashes to an abrupt close. This track not only works fantastically as a listenable cue, it also feeds in themes and works them organically, whilst showing a deft sense of pacing that belies the fact this is a film score. This is very much a guide for the rest of the score, which at 45 minutes ought to implode under its own action status but through solid thematic work and sheer brute force stays fresh, and leaves the characteristic Elfman chorus for only the chief emotional thrills. Fox's theme is a beautiful counter-weight to the rhythmic element, adding warmth to the character in 'Fox's story' (track 8) at the same time as sifting it through 100% Elfman dream-like textures (a worthy successor to the similarly alien 'Betrayal' cue from Mission: Impossible), the earlier section all dreamy strings, solo female voice with a touching melodic line, whispy female chorus and duduk and dulcimer.
WES' THEME (clip)

FRATERNITY THEME (clip) (see bottom of page for harmonised version)
FOX'S THEME (clip)
As choices go, Elfman's path of action helps push Wanted through any moral trainwrecks (who'd be a commuter anywhay?), plot holes, Terence Stamp's acting (I'm sorry, but why do people confuse plank with gravitas? The man has been in a coma for the best part of two decades), and the very occasional "find yourself" amateur psycho-babble clap-trap (yup, he's a killer not a loser, let's party!), and the kind of humour that might otherwise have ruined the tension - and leaves it a thrill ride of a thriller.
Elfman's Wanted is brimming with thematic play that binds it tightly:
1. Testosterone-embued rock song opener (lending street cred - hopefully a classic style rather than just dated...) may feel like this is totally separated from the score, but cleverly, the bass riff is cleverly woven into 'Wesley's office' (track 4).
2. Much of the score is underpinned by a semi-tone lean. Emphasis is placed on the note a semitone above a stable harmonic one. This is evident in both 'menace' motifs.
3. Wes's theme is a bouncy, rollocking melody that is instantly engaging. It doesn't have too many chances to shine under the film's barrage of sound effects, but Elfman is careful to give it space where possible (see tracks 2,10, 11).
4. 'Fraternity Suite' (track 3) hides much beneath its moody camouflage of medieval atmosphere. Low voices (medieval plainchant over throat singing deep bass), uttering 'Libera me domine' gives the fraternity theme real weight where it might have otherwise felt a little corny, and gives Freeman's bass voice a run for its money, but if you listen carefully, the 'Libera me' is an adaptation of Wesley's theme.
5. My favourite point: the first 4 notes of the Fraternity theme are often unhitched and used in mantra-like repetition. Intriguing is the fact that Elfman has picked the famous DSCH motif: This was Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's musical calling card, a motif he used in a number of his works, based, like J. S. Bach's "BACH" motif (Bb-A-C-B), on the letters of his name using German notation. D-Eb-C-B derives from the German notation of D-Es-C-H, spelling his initials '' in German transliterated (the cyrillic Romanised) spelling: D. Sch. Its usage is now so embedded in the composer's reputation that it is used as a journal title, cataloguing prefix and even as shorthand for his name. Was Elfman's choice of theme accidental? His professed affinity with Russian music suggests not, and perhaps with a Russian at the helm of the film, he took great pleasure in adding his own little hommage. Most notable is that the film's brief opening cue (not on CD) is the Fraternity theme...
Verdict: A return to big budget scoring in real style after being burned with Spider-man 2. Thematically rich, perfectly in tune with its subject matter, this score narrowly misses the mark on disc by way of its lacklustre ending. A reprise of Wes's theme, for example, would have made all the difference. In the film it loses a whole star for not quite sounding as unified as it could, and depending too much on Elfman's song. This is most likely due to Elfman leaving many cues with the director when going off to score Hellboy II. It does sound like some music was mixed and matched. Final judgement reserved: a 4 star score perhaps rendered in a 3 star manner?
Score rating: * * *
CD release rating: * * * 1/2

Back to the Score Profile