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Pawn Sacrifice by James Newton Howard (Review)

posted Sep 6, 2015, 2:32 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Sep 6, 2015, 2:33 PM ]

Edward Zwick is probably one of the more underrated directors working today. He's been making films for decades, but never seemed to gain the traction or popularity that others have. Having worked with James Horner and Hans Zimmer previously, his most recent composer of choice with James Newton Howard has lasted the longest. The two first collaborated on 2006's Blood Diamond, with Defiance and Love & Other Drugs following up to Pawn Sacrifice. Zwick and Howard's relationship is one of my favorites simply because of the great variety between projects. For Pawn Sacrifice, Howard utilizes a subtle synthesized approach not far removed from the sound of one of my favorite scores, Michael Clayton.

To begin, this score is very short. The album release runs 24 minutes, so right off the bat one cannot except a great deal of development or nuance in terms of traditional melody or rhythm. This hurts the lasting impact of the music dramatically, but it does not prevent it from succeeding on an intimate level. For instance, Howard works to create a homogenous sound that permeates through the narrative. The music is cold and distant, much like Bobby Fischer, the film's protagonist. Everything is calculated and expected, and while that might not give value to repeated listens, it works on a fundamental level for the story. Even so, there are sparks of warmth and lyricism that break through, despite their brief length. "Bobby Wins" is a perfect cap to the musical experience in that it gives the listener that closure and separation from the cues preceding it.

Pawn Sacrifice does not lend itself to multiple listens, but fans of James Newton Howard's cold and subtle suspense music will find something to enjoy here. It shares the same soundscape of his score for Michael Clayton, even perhaps too closely, but ultimately it works to set the appropriate mood and tension for the movie. The runtime leaves a lot to be desired, but the music functions on a basic level that can be appreciated as simple and reflective.