The Foreigner (Cliff Martinez) – Film Score Review

Caleb Burnett reviews the score to action thriller The Foreigner...

Composer: Cliff Martinez
Label: Sony Classical
Tracks: 15

The Foreigner is set in the United Kingdom, and is based on a novel written in 1992 about an immigrant restaurant owner whose daughter is killed in an IRA-linked terrorist stack. This restaurant owner, portrayed by Jackie Chan, demands justice after the attack and sets out on an old-fashioned one man revenge mission. Jackie Chan gives one of the most emotional performances of his career, brutally taking out Irish terrorists, going to battle with political forces out of his control, and avenging his beloved daughter after her untimely death.

The best cues of this score come in the expressive, emotional and action packed moments. What lies in between those moments is often mindlessly repetitive and un-nuanced. These cues do a good job of representing the deep-seeded feelings and long pent-up actions of the main character.

Good examples of the expressive musical moments of the score come in ‘Daughter’s Room’ and ‘Observe and Report’. In these cues, the true depth of the feelings of Chan’s character and the expansive nature of the film’s setting come to life in thick string orchestrations, high, textured chorus, and very subtle rhythmic synthesizer. While these cues are not long on thematic material, they are long on texture, atmosphere, and complexity. While working without distinct themes, these cues help scenes to move and function and convey their desired emotions through longevity and gradual chord changes rather than attracting the audience with melodic passages.

The action music of The Foreigner is highly stereotypical and often finds itself rhythmically tracking those intense action and fight scenes. Cues such as ‘Put Your Bag on the Table’ and ‘Wired to Blow’ utilise low-voiced, rhythmic synthesiser and jarring percussion in a repetitive way to drive home the quickly moving combat scenes. In scenes where terrorist attacks are imminent, the music becomes especially repetitive and surprisingly catchy, keeping viewers engaged in the scene in multiple ways. The advantage of this is that viewers’ suspense is retained by the fact that the music doesn’t necessarily give away when things will happen on screen. These scenes could have been better with music that enhanced viewers’ innate feelings with crescendos or changes in instrumentation, rather than just droning and retaining their suspense.

The musical score of this film is one of much minimalism and quiet; synthesised instruments make up the cues in their entirety. When listening to this score on its own, one must turn up the volume to realise that it is there. In its few moments of upbeat, percussive action music, the score establishes many percussion motifs that go along with the brisk, gritty fight and action scenes.

However, the vast majority of this score is simple, repetitive, and rhythmic. While not excessively creative or extravagant, the music certainly does exactly what the main character of The Foreigner does: what it has to do. Its reservation and strict intention mirror the just mission of Jackie Chan’s character. In short, The Foreigner is a good film with effective musical accompaniment. It could have been great had it boasted a thicker, more creative, and gripping musical score.

Have you heard the score? Let us know what you thought in the comments section.

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