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War Machine by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 11:58 AM by Kaya Savas

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis are two of the most unique and talented musicians not just in songwriting but in film scoring. The duo’s scoring career has given us absolute masterpieces such as The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Proposition, Hell Or High Water and The Road. Nick and Warren definitely have a certain sound, and it’s fair to say that their versatility when it comes to scoring is limited. You won’t see these guys scoring a blockbuster anytime soon. Up to this point they have scored movies of a certain tone and pace. War Machine was an interesting film to see them attached to, and it was their first film with director David Michôd. In the end the film, while an interesting one, fails to find its tone. Part drama and part awkward satire, the story and characters never seem to mesh and that includes Cave and Ellis’ misappropriated score.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis would have probably been a better fit for David Michôd’s last film, The Rover. Here, the duo attempt to create counter tone to what we are seeing onscreen. The larger than life character of Brad Pitt’s General McMahon is the scene stealer, and it really is his story. The film itself is nothing like the trailer or posters that you see, which is why it’s essential to really watch the movie and see everything working in context. The score out of context paints the typical bleak and dissonant soundscape with a heavy dose of moral reflection, which you’d expect from a Cave and Ellis score. However, even in the score we bounce around when it comes to tone and an emotional current. We never find balance, and the whole experience seems disjointed. I wouldn't be surprised if the music wasn't written to picture, because nothing really fits when you look at it as a whole. I think the general idea was to indeed create a score that counter's the tone of the film, by sort of giving us a deeper and serious feel in the music to juxtapose the satirical approach of the acting and story. The score almost functions as these pods of internal reflections for our protagonist, but they never do enough to make us connect as an audience. The lack of thematic structure or really any melodic structure also doesn't help the score’s goals of bringing us into the internal struggles of our main character. We get a nice bookend closure to the whole narrative, but it's the points between the start and finish that really don’t flow together well enough to grasp the audience.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis seem to have been just the wrong choice for this movie. Like actors, composers can be miscast as well. They are absolutely brilliant composers and storytellers, and all their previous scores are proof of that. I feel like David Michôd was probably listening to Hell Or High Water or something and thought, oh yeah, get those guys. The score’s attempt to counter the tone of the characters and story onscreen only works slightly, but never to the full effect of what David Michôd probably had in mind. The film is more of a character study than anything else, and it's very different than what the marketing of the movie suggests. It’s definitely worth a watch, and the score worth a listen because in the end it seems like it was a great idea on paper that somehow misfired during the execution of it. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis still remain some of the most brilliant storytellers working today, and David Michôd is a fantastic director. But War Machine will remain as this strange and somewhat interesting misfire in both film and score that is definitely engaging to a point, but never enough to make it memorable or lasting.