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Act of Valor by Nathan Furst (Review)

posted Aug 21, 2012, 7:51 PM by
Summing up my feelings on Nathan Furst’s Act of Valor is a difficult task. It’s not because this was my first foray into the young composer’s work, whose best-known works thus far to the casual listener are the scores for the Bionicle film trilogy. It’s not because I was completely unfamiliar with the Act of Valor film either; released earlier in the year, it was lauded by many critics as an incredibly apt action flick whose cast included actual Navy SEALs. And it’s not because Act of Valor is a sub-par score; I actually really enjoyed it in spite of the just over two star rating I provided, though I cringe at the number of unfilled stars just visually hanging there, taunting my conscience. Act of Valor is a quite skilled example in action scoring that deserves attention, but it’s the question of how much attention the score should be given afterwards that finally landed me on my decision.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this score, whose length I was surprised to find totaled nearly seventy minutes. Right from the start, I immediately for reasons unknown thought Act of Valor reminded me firmly of a video game score. And surprisingly so too, since opening tracks “Ethos” and “Act of Valor” introduce mellow flute-accentuated tunes, reminiscent of some of Hans Zimmer’s and James Horner’s past works, also containing swirling, undulating, ethnic-tinged strings with motes of quick and effective piano. With the track “Bonfire,” reminders of Horner’s Braveheart come to mind, and later “Night Drop” touches latter-day works of both Zimmer and John Powell. On “SWCC Boats,” world-style female vocals begin to mix with the aforementioned influences, bringing more of a voice to the score and temporarily halting the video game flourishes I’d heard thus far. That halt is short-lived, however, as highlight track “Exfil Now” strikes me with a “boss battle”-like clout, and in spite of its gaming resonance, very fondly recalls Sean Callery’s work on the latter seasons of 24 and 24: Redemption and a more jarring and upbeat version of Danny Elfman’s Red Dragon. The score quickly moves onto another highlight, “Infil Cedros Island,” cautiously introducing uneasy, twitching violins atop soft electronic percussion, casually tagging Zimmer’s work on Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy. “El Centro Cartel,” the longest track at just under eight minutes, builds into a triumphant aural ribbon before verging into slight ambient territory, before soon leading into closing tracks “Warrior’s End” and “Engel’s Legacy.” At the three-minute mark, the former overwhelmingly presents a Horner-frosted track that could’ve come from a Nobuo Uematsu Final Fantasy finale crescendo, while the latter unapologetically emulates the most despondent James Horner Braveheart tunes sans uilleann pipes.

Nathan Furst has incredible talent at powerfully merging eastern-influenced sound with orchestral backdrops, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of his future work especially in the action film-scoring field. And though I still admittedly cringe at the seemingly low rating I’m giving Act of Valor, its one true and ultimate, final weakness is its inability to have a lasting impact on the listener. These are strong tracks, to be sure, but the only thing I wrestle with is the score’s, and Furst’s, telling a story, when instead, what Act of Valor needs is a journey. Laden with action scoring highlights and casually, almost hypnotically impressive work, Nathan Furst’s Act of Valor is more than sufficient at giving the film and its music an identity, just not a personality. A listening session is very recommended, though not ultimately adamant.