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The Homesman by Marco Beltrami (Review)

posted Nov 17, 2014, 8:25 PM by Kaya Savas

Marco Beltrami is a composer whose career is fascinating to explore. I’ve listened to his sound evolve from one of the most generic to one of the most unique. I think some people can argue where this creative awakening happened, but you can point around to I, Robot and The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada and be in the general area. Beltrami is composing at a level that separates himself from the rest. Director Tommy Lee Jones and Beltrami form a a team that is hard to beat, and The Homesman marks their third feature together. 3:10 To Yuma and The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada proved that Beltrami could score a Western, and The Homesman is not only one of the best scores of the year but also Beltrami’s career.

The Homesman is a bleak hymn-like score very much in the vein of what Carter Burwell did with True Grit. It’s unfair to compare the two though as Beltrami’s score isn’t based off an established hymn, but his main theme does echo hymn-like qualities. The score is not a boisterous one, nor does it have the robustness of most. The music is able to achieve great things with not that many instruments. Beltrami’s soundscape is wholly original as well, as he again went through some great lengths to innovate sounds. By recording the score on the hills of Malibu outside his studio, he gained an open air quality to the music. You can actually hear the sounds traveling away in the air instead of being absorbed by the soundproof walls of a studio. The sounds are less full and leaner, unless of course he brings the full swath of strings. Chilling sounds of dissonance and ambience were recorded by attaching microphones to steel support wires pulled tight across the hills. By hitting the wire or simply letting the wind blow across it, subtle vibrations created some very effective sounds. These dissonant sounds are perfect for echoing the madness that has stricken the three woman the main characters are transporting to get help. What anchors the score emotionally though is of course the main theme, which Beltrami utilizes heavily. The theme reflects the emotional journey of Cuddy and Briggs perfectly while still bringing the Western setting into the equation. The theme loses its steam in certain places, becoming fractured and weakened to symbolize the hardship of the journey on the characters. The theme really does have different emotional states, very much like the main characters. When you finally come towards the end of the journey and get that full-force reprise in “Entering Town”, it brings chills and tears. The entire journey is so brilliantly approached that I immediately listened to the whole score again after it ended.

The Homesman is not a completely traditional Western score, but it carries some of the expected instrumentation be it a fiddle or a banjo. What makes the score truly unique is its theme, which is a living and breathing representation of the characters. The variations that Beltrami implements on the theme let us feel the emotional state of the characters, and we go on every emotional beat of the journey that they do. As an audience you are completely engrossed in the story and its emotions, which makes the journey one worth taking. The Homesman’s score is as unique to its story as it can be, and proves once again that Tommy Lee Jones and Marco Beltrami are a powerful director/composer team.