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Soundtrack Review: #Criminal

Criminal - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack sports dark ambience and powerful electronic beats.

Review by Matt Cummings

Say what you want about the Kevin Costner action/thriller Criminal (we sure did HERE), but its excellent score surely wasn't a reason for its disappearance at the box office. Filled with incredible dark electronic beats and beautiful tender moments, Criminal - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack compels us to take in every bit of Composers Brian Tyler and Keith Power's environment.

The violent world of spy craft has taken another soldier, this time in murdered CIA operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds). But his sacrifice yields an interesting by-product: he was on his way to pick up the launch codes for the entire American defense network, which was stolen by a shadowy character named The Dutchman (Michael Pitt). The bag's disappearance and location of The Dutchman have also spurred interest by other parties, including the psychotic anarchist Heimdahl (Jordi Molla), who desires to sell the laptop to the highest bidder in the hopes of encouraging world-wide destruction. But Pope's death won't go unnoticed: his boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) learns that the cast-aside Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) has a radical method to save people's memories: by transferring them to human hosts. Unfortunately, no normal person would apply, and so Wells taps a violent destructive criminal in Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner) to undergo the process. The wild and unpredictable Jerico has a brain disorder that Wells hopes will fill in the missing gaps of his existence while providing the location of the money bag and The Dutchman. But Jerico has his own plan, including finding Pope's wife Jill (Gal Gadot), of whose memories of their happy marriage begin to overtake the savage lifer. As time runs down for the CIA, Jerico must decide if his strangely growing allegiance to Jill and her daughter is more important than saving the world.

In many ways, the score skips the mistakes made by Director Ariel Vroman, relying entirely on environment and mood, while pushing the boundaries with nearly every track. Things start off with a Oblivion-style electronic performance Drift and Fall Again by Israeli indie folk band Lola Marsh. It's got a big, beautiful sound that resonates deep into the 19-track offering. We won't hear vocals again until the last track, but it's a nice way to set up our forthcoming experience. Tyler has been around for a long time, dipping his feet in Marvel tentpoles (Thor: The Dark World and Age of Ultron), street beats (Fast and Furious, Furious 7), and Emmy-nominated television (Sleepy Hollow, Hawaii Five-O). But I'd have to say that Criminal (Madsonik Remix) is way out even for him. Its drum & bass groove is an instant keeper, reminding us that he and Power aren't afraid to crush new boundaries while providing excellent beats along the way.

That becomes very clear as we descend into tracks like Pope, Division, and later Chrono and You Remember. These are more set up pieces, effortlessly merging dark sound effects with skillful electronic beats. You need setups like these to join the tissue of the sound you are creating; not every track needs to sound like A New Hope. But there's also a lot of Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy on display, and that's not a bad thing. Chained and Waves of Institution are good examples, as Tyler and Power create the musical equivalent of waking up from a bout of amnesia. They help Jericho begin to remember Pope's life, mixing in dirty repeating keyboards, more of those impressive dark effects, and even utilize a few wind instruments. It's for this reason that a track like Distant Memories endures as one of the best on the album.

In a way, Tyler and Power provide a portion of the mental roadmap, helping to paint Jericho's struggles to keep Pope's memories separate from his own twisted past. If you haven't seen the film, it might be worth your time just to see Costner behave so naughty. He wrecks things and people through, and the track Jericho gives you a good idea of the journey this character takes before we fade to black. I'm not saying all of it works, but Tyler does a good job of tracking the madness Jericho's caused throughout his life. But then Fixer arrives: at 8:31, it's the longest track, assembling all the richness of this collaboration before sending us along with Resilience, nother journey into that repeating dirty keyboarding that's become such a staple of modern electronic scores.

Another of my favorites is Inexorable, a pulsing beat journey with great keyboards that hang around both in the distance and right up in our ears. It then moves into a powerful movement that really evolves into Jericho's theme. And while I couldn't get over the head-scratching ending of the film, Tyler and Power don't back down with Culmination, adding a drum machine that finds itself pushing back with a hypnotic, trance-like pulse that is every bit entertaining. The final track is another version of Drift and Fall Again, and it's every bit as good as Madsonik Remix, Tyler's alter-ego.

Criminal - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack probably won't find itself among the litter of free choices at your local Starbucks, but it's ok with that. Tyler and Power have crafted a pulsing and powerful score that's at many points quite ambient, demonstrating just how far this duo has evolved from the days of Tokyo Drift. Perhaps this represents a new peak which the duo have attained through years of collaboration: they can still do the big epic sounds of the MCU, while basking in the stark individuality of Criminal. And while the film might see a quick fade into obscurity, I can't help but think the score will endure as a lasting monument. It basks in the trend of repeating keyboard samples and dark ambient corners where only spies and madmen hang their hats.

Criminal is in theaters now, with the digital score now available and the CD arriving May 20, 2016.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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