- Review by Kaya Savas - November 2, 2018
Widows sees composer Hans Zimmer reuniting with director Steve McQueen for the tense and dramatic thriller based on the British TV series of the same name. The interesting part here is that Hans Zimmer was at the earliest stage of his career working for Stanley Myers when Stanley was scoring the original series. Hans was essentially getting coffee and learning as Stanley worked on the original series.
For this story, we see auteur filmmaker Steve McQueen update the narrative and set it in modern day Chicago. McQueen infuses the plot with tons of important social commentary on race, crime, politics and class. The film is a tense tour de force and masterclass in acting, directing and editing. And with that being said, some might be underwhelmed with what Hans did musically here, but within the context of McQueen’s visuals it adds a lot by doing little.
The film is very quiet, and if you’ve seen McQueen’s other films you know how little he relies on score. He uses it way differently than say a director like Christopher Nolan. While Nolan sees music as the main course, McQueen sees it as a seasoning. The entire first act of the film is practically devoid of music, and what you find on the album is essentially the complete score. The opening heist is extremely intense even without a drop of score. As the film progresses, score is used to create tone and atmosphere. The first track, “Marcus” is the first music you hear in the film and it comes way after the opening where our main characters become widows. This ambient cloud of emotion acts as a blur in the back of your head, filling you in slowly with a sense of loss. And that’s a big part of the score and where the emotion is. The sense of loss and then taking matters into your own hands. The music works more as an ambient layer in these scenes.
Once the pieces fall into place and the movie starts building momentum, we see music used as a tension-building tool. Hans ends up building these tension loops that are meant to keep this sustaining momentum in the background. Now typically, Hans does this type of stuff in all of his action scores, but for those films they are the grounding foundation for which Hans usually builds layers upon layers of other things on. Here, this is all we get. It truly is a barebones score, providing solely the skeletal structure for certain thrilling scenes to be built around. Simple, potent and effective. It’s as if someone took the tension builds of Dunkirk, The Dark Knight and Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 into a blender, and out came this really nice and crunchy result. Electronic textures are layered in very slightly as the cues build. The track will start off clean but get meatier and crunchier with a faster tempo as things ramp up. The end of the score bookends everything nicely by bringing back that emotional atmosphere.
This is probably the most stripped down and barebones you’ll ever hear Hans. The score has two simple functions here, add emotion without being melodic and add tension without being emotional. This is a sound design score done with precise execution. It’s short and doesn’t do anything else it doesn’t need to. McQueen leaves the heavy lifting to the way he shoots, and the power of the performances. Widows includes many long takes that just linger on a face, as you watch emotion build and erupt through the performance alone. If you’ve seen movies like Hunger, Shame and 12 Years A Slave then you know the type of film to expect. While it may seem like a waste of talent to put Hans to work on just simple structural builds, it ends up adding a sonic identity that only Hans’s sound could bring.