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The Equalizer by Harry Gregson-Williams (Review)

posted Sep 5, 2014, 1:00 PM by Kaya Savas

Harry Gregson-Williams is a composer whose work I know very well. I started getting into film music as a listener when he started getting into it as a composer working under Hans Zimmer at Media Ventures. I was aware of his name on scores like The Rock and Armageddon even if his involvement was minimal. I believed that when Harry started working Tony Scott a true dream team was made. Very rarely will a composer match a director’s visual style so perfectly, but Harry did match it. And they went on to compose every film together until Tony’s tragic passing. Harry re-defined what electronic scoring was, and made it his own. His sound was unique, his thematic writing simple yet effective. The melodic textures he built would frequently jump from score to score, as if each score he composed was connected to the others. His sound so easily morphed into the picture he was scoring, even when he went with an orchestral approach with something like The Chronicles Of Narnia or with Shrek. He honed his piano themes with director Ben Affleck, which have always been a staple of Harry’s scores. Harry then took a break after Tony’s passing, he closed his studio and took a hiatus from film music for a while. But now he’s back.

The Equalizer is a fitting return to scoring for Harry whose last feature film scores were the Total Recall remake and Mr. Pip from Shrek director Andrew Adamson in 2012. The Equalizer sees Harry return to working with Antoine Fuqua. Harry scored Fuqua’s first feature film, The Replacement Killers. The Equalizer is in many ways a perfectly subdued Harry score. Any fan of Harry’s will notice how he works his magic here, while the more casual listeners will think it sounds like everything else he’s ever done. Yes, The Equalizer borrows elements from his past work, no that is not a sign of lazy writing. The Equalizer is a tense and subdued action thriller score that sets us up emotionally before knocking us into revenge mode.

What this score does wonderfully is that it keeps it simple. We open with a traditional character portrait that Harry has done in the past with scores like Deja Vu and Man On Fire. He sets up the character before focusing more on the plot. And even when he focuses on plot, the score still is echoing the state of mind of our main character. The score has plenty of recognizable elements that Harry perfected while scoring Tony Scott’s films, and here he blends them with some melodic structure that I’ve actually never heard from him before. The score feels light, which makes it agile and easy to build tension, because it can shift tempo very quickly. And while it may be light on its feet, it can still bring gritty intensity without feeling sluggish. The score doesn’t have the same emotional resonance as something like Man On Fire, but it’s still a very engaging listen. I found myself very wrapped up in this one, and the longer track times allowed for the score to really develop. It feels like someone driving a car starting from 0mph and slowly getting faster to about 45mph then keeping it steady on cruise control while only flooring it every now and then. The music contains a tiny bit of Russian flair to echo the Russian mob plot in the film, and it’s never really prominent so it never takes the spotlight. Martin Tillman on the cello adds nice accents to the music here and there as well. Overall, this is a fun score with plenty to sink your teeth into. It’s an even more rewarding experience for big Harry Gregson-Williams fans.

The Equalizer is nothing superbly complex, just simple execution done with masterful precision. The score works clean and light without being something bigger than it needs to be. Harry keeps the focus of the music as a mental reflection of our protagonist’s state of mind while coating the action with his recognizable style. The score feels more in the vein of Man On Fire and Deja Vu than anything else, but it has plenty of moments and a great theme to make it its own thing. Harry Gregson-Williams was truly missed during his break, and it’s extremely great to have him back in action. The Equalizer is a welcome return back to form and should be checked out. Welcome back, Harry.