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He Named Me Malala by Thomas Newman (Review)

posted Oct 25, 2015, 9:41 PM by Koray Savas

Davis Guggenheim's latest documentary is about Malala Yousafzai, the world's youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. At a mere 18 years old, Yousafzai is one of the most notable activists for human rights and education for women in her native Pakistan. As she became internationally prominent for her work, Yousafzai suffered a gun shot wound to the head in an attempted assassination. She survived, and continues her work to this day. The documentary chronicles her life leading to this event and its aftermath.

Documentaries are typically a tough genre for film composers, but here, Thomas Newman provides a nice balance of nuance and flair. For the most part, the music services the picture and remains low key, though the main theme kicks in for those feel good moments to give everything a spark of hope (hear "Cat Burglar," "School v. Celebrity," and "Peace Prize"). Its energetic rhythm and bright orchestration make a huge difference for the listening experience, breaking up the solemn underscore that fills the spaces in between. In addition to these highlights, "A Pashtun Story" opens the album and features a nice mix of the score's opposing sounds. It takes the colorful harmony of the main theme and combines it with the serious overtones from the body of the musical narrative. These passages comprise most of the music, but the context warrants the subtlety. Cues such as "A Fiery Speaker," "Night," "No More There," and "Refugees" do not work well on the surface, but they contribute to the bigger picture.

He Named Me Malala may be the least accomplished Thomas Newman score this year, but it still succeeds in highlighting the film's message. The theme will put a smile on your face while the underscore functions on a contextual level by supporting the narrative. One cannot ask for much more from documentary film scoring. Newman fans will be pleased.