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Pain & Gain by Steve Jablonsky (Review)

posted Apr 26, 2013, 6:41 PM by Kaya Savas

Steve Jablonsky’s collaborations with Michael Bay is one of the most notable Director/Composer team-ups in the industry. He started out doing additional music for Hans Zimmer and friends including Bay films Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Clearly there was a spark. Bay and Mark Mancina had a falling out right before Bad Boys 2, it seems Hans Zimmer and Bay didn’t exactly click which saw Hans siding with Jerry Bruckheimer after the divorce in partnership after Pearl Harbor. Jablonsky seemed to be the one who truly knew what Michael Bay wanted in a composer. Ever since The Island he has been Bay’s name composer. Bay’s films have always had big, bold and thematic music and Pain & Gain is no different. However, Jablonsky truly takes a different approach than what you would expect from him. The problem for Jablonsky is that after Transformers thats all people wanted from him. So any project he took on I’m sure temp-tracked with Transformers. His last truly great score outside of the Transformers franchise was indeed The Island, but here Michael Bay let his composer craft from scratch. Pain & Gain is an immensely great score with an amazingly textured electronic soundscape that invokes dread, tension and uneasiness yet manages to make it feel significant in a dreamlike fashion. Whatever comedy that's in the film only appears onscreen as Jablonsky completely bypasses the funny to get to the core.

While I stated that this score is bold that doesn’t mean that it's as big and loud as his other scores for Michael Bay. The score can get loud, but there is no grandiose themes that will give you goosebumps. Some of the melodies may give you chills though. The opening motif sets the stage and it really only pops up one other time in its full form. The score feels like it has optimism in the beginning but slowly unravels into a zigzagging plot that goes deeper and deeper. The story of the Sun Gym Gang is a gruesome one. The main characters of this film are criminals and murderers, and by giving the tone a darkly comic spin one could understandably find it hard to connect with the characters. Jablonsky doesn’t try to humanize them, but he does flesh them out a bit by evoking the feel of hope through their goals of climbing out of poverty and scoring big. The music has that tone in the beginning, but as soon as the gears start moving the music distances itself from the characters and becomes our emotional guide to take in the action and plot. Jablonsky keeps the right tone all throughout and never does it become comic or even quirky. That sense of seriousness is always there, which is why the score feels significant. There is a deep running emotional layer, but the music never has us emotionally react to the plight of the criminals. We more so react to the tragicness of the whole story. There are some amazingly well structured tracks that carry you through the story. The melodies keep things moving and keep things focused. The electronic textures are all well built and never feel like they’re piled on to create noise. In the end you feel emotionally affected by the score, but you realize it’s because Jablonsky just sketched out a tragic tale for you and not because of the central characters’ journeys.

Steve Jablonsky delivers an excellent score to Michael Bay’s darkly comic take on the Sun Gym Gang events. The music manages to stay intense, meaningful and structured throughout. This results in a score that can be both entertaining yet still pulls real emotions out of you. It has a dreamlike feel, which is appropriate since the main characters are chasing their American dream. The modern electronic approach gives the score a sharp edge, yet it still has a rooted feel. You can also feel Miami through the music as Jablonsky manages to add that 80’s neon feel ever so slightly. The music also has an incredibly unique identity yet still bleeds Jablonsky’s style. The film treats the events and characters like slapstick, which makes you wonder where the comedy in the score is and if Jablonsky was even scoring the same film. Pain & Gain is an incredibly accomplished work and sits at the top of what Jablonsky has been able to do with his director, Michael Bay. As an electronic approach to modern action-scoring, within the genre the score is nearly perfect.