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Andrew Garfield stars in this true story about an American WWII solider who refused to carry a weapon into battle, but nonetheless came out a hero. The film debuted at the Venice film Festival to a 10 min ovation and is a 2017 Oscar contender. Composer Gregson-Williams is a frequent Hans Zimmer collaborator who's most recent score before Hacksaw Ridge was Disney's Tarzan soundtrack.
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When I first listened to this particular score, I didn't really care for it that much. Honestly, I was only "half listening" to it while driving in the car. The score starts off in a very subtle way and I admittedly was expecting something more triumphant, heroic, with blasting french horns and fireworks. It wasn't until I took the time to sit down and get to know Desmond Doss that I could really appreciate the story that this score tells. Doss definitely wasn't "blasting french horns and fireworks" for sure. The composer's score instead focuses on the convictions of man who endured plenty of hardships before and during the war. The score also paints a picture of the harsh realities of war and ultimately musically proclaims Doss's heroism in the end.
From what I understand, the movie begins by showing the ravages of war on the Okinawa battlefield. The opening track, "Okinawa Battlefield" (track 1), introduces one of the main themes that the composer revisits throughout the score. It's an emotional piece where upon listening, you can imagine the sheer devastation one might witness on such a field of combat. The first three cues of the score are all very light and the composer takes this opportunity to introduce us to Doss and the events that lead up to his strong convictions concerning war. "Pretty Corny" (track 4) and "Climbing for a Kiss" (track 5) are sentimental and moving cues that focus on Doss's developing relationship with his future wife Dorothy. "Throw Hell at Him" (track 6) is probably concerning the events that Doss encountered while training. Obviously, there were quite a few who didn't agree with Doss claiming conscientious objector status but that didn't deter him from his desire to assist in some way. The first 8 tracks of the score are development pieces that introduce us Ross. They are emotional, filled with light sentimentality, and reflect the complexities of the man's life. The composer keeps things interesting with spinning the main theme throughout the cues, but there is a growing anticipating within me as I wait for something bigger to happen.
Rupert Gregson-Williams begins to deliver throughout the second half of the score as the story shifts to Doss's remarkable achievements during the war. "Hacksaw Ridge" (track 9), is a more nail biting experience and could be more associated at times as an ambient soundscape reflecting the anxiety of the mission ahead. When listening to this piece, one can imagine a group of soldiers looking at an objective and wondering how on Earth are they going to take that. While the cue is not thematic, the composer accurately captures a fear that grows in the pit of your stomach and the eerie sounds scattered throughout the piece seem to reflect this moment as a living nightmare. "Japanese Take the Ridge" (track 10) is a much more intense and quickly paced "charge" complete with horns signaling the attack. The heroism of the situation is not proclaimed through patriotic musical phrases as the cue drives forward however. Instead, the music very visually puts you in the frantic fight where you'll begin the shake your heard as you imagine what brave men endured in the battle. "One Man at a Time" (track 12) is a very expressive piece that accompanies one of the most astonishing aspects of Doss's military career. Along with "Rescue Continues" (track 13), the two pieces work in conduction to capture an extraordinary feat as Doss saves the lives of man after man. It's a Medal of Honor moment and I think the music captures this selfless act nicely.
Two highlight pieces for me are "Praying" (track 15) and "Historical Footage" (track 16). The composer has some very big moments within these pieces complete with the wonderful sound of a chorus triumphantly singing out Doss's success. There are some "goose bump" moments here and I love playing these pieces loudly. "Historical Footage" has changing movements throughout the piece but provides a great summary of some of the best moments throughout the score. I love the bells and choir at the end of this particular piece as well.
So while the first half of the score is relatively light and filled with sentimentality, it certainly builds the anticipation for the second half. The composer doesn't musically portray Doss as a super-hero but rather as a man who achieved the extraordinary. Doss was always concerned about the accuracy of his story and certainly didn't want some "tall tales" being told. I can at least say the Rupert Gregson-Williams portrays Doss as a very remarkable man who was able to accomplish an amazing task despite all the hardships he endured all along the way. The music celebrates and honors this story in a very realistic way.
The CD version of this release is produced by Varese Sarabande. There are 16 tracks with a running time of 55 minutes. There is an 8 page insert that contains various photos from the film and production credits. I really like the artwork on the CD cover and this image is also presented on the disc itself.