Unbroken / by Charlie Brigden

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By Karol Krok unbroken

Unbroken tells a story of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner who becomes a war prisoner in Japanese camps during the second World War. His story was turned into a book written by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) and now is being adapted for big screen. Coen brothers are responsible for the script, Hollywood megastar Angelina Jolie directs while rising British talent Jack O’Connell plays the main part. The film does its subject matter justice for the most part but it is also often accused of being an obvious award bait (what a surprise!).

Alexandre Desplat completes his remarkable run this year with this film, which, in some ways, mirrors the Olympic struggles of the character of Unbroken. His stamina is impressive indeed.  As surprising as it may be, this new music sounds almost nothing like the four scores that preceded it. ‘We Are Here’ opens with a suggestion of what will becomes the main theme before seguing into solemn choral passage that sets a serious and more contemplative tone for things to follow.

In ‘Torrance Tornado’ Desplat introduces the first full statement of his noble main theme (associated with Olympics). In the same track, he we get our first taste of percussion section. While many will complain it somewhat alludes a bit too strongly to many modern scoring tropes, especially with chord progressions recalling the likes of Brian Tyler, it is nevertheless appropriate both to the setting and story of young Olympic champion. The melody re-appears several time throughout the album and score. ‘Olympic Kick’ brings in anxious preparatory rhythm before stating the idea in much grander fashion.

There are a lot of more quiet and contemplative pieces in Unbroken. ‘Albatross’ is a typical waltz-like piano piece from Desplat, with some gentle string accompaniment. The same theme is later reprised in ‘Trip to Omori’, this time performed by string section of London Symphony Orchestra. Another piano moments can be heard in gentle ‘Making Gnocchi’ and ‘Radio Reading’.

Given that the film deals with war, the music remains quiet and restrained for the most part. ‘God Made the Stars’ features contemplative harp. In pieces like ‘Bombing Tokyo’, ‘Japanese Attack’ or ‘To Naoetsu’, composer paints the desperate and dark portrait of human struggle with only few carefully chosen instruments. shakuhachi, famous Japanese flute, has been used in film music for a long time and it is used in a same way that John Williams did in his excellent Empire of the Sun. That score is recalled most strongly in suspenseful pieces like ‘Solitary’.

As previously mentioned, the majority of score is very delicate and restrained. Occasionally, Desplate allows string section a broader moment. Still, he doesn’t really unleash the power of London Symphony Orchestra until his last three pieces on soundtrack album ‘The Plank’ slowly build up towards the big statement of Olympic theme while the second half of ‘The War Is Over’ presents the grandest orchestral passage in the entire score, complete with triumphant brass. As a perfect coda to this story, ‘Unbroken’ features a touching rendition of main theme for solo cello. Coldplay provided the end credit song for end credits and album’s coda (‘Miracles’) and it doesn’t really well with the overall tone of Desplat’s work.

Unbroken will probably end up being the least remarkable of composer’s achievements in 2014. Not that there is anything wrong with his writing, it certainly fits the tone and story remarkable well. The score is filled with a few enjoyable and well used thematic ideas that should appeal to many people. However, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla, The Monuments Men and The Imitation Game all offered much more striking listening experiences. The hour-long album comes recommended mostly to composer’s fans, as it further displays his chameleon-like ability to write almost anything.

Unbroken is now out from Parlophone UK