Hans Zimmer & David Fleming
Hillbilly Elegy (Music from the Netflix Film)
Like everyone, I would hope, I struggled with the movie Hillbilly Elegy – I wanted to like it and in fact I could not flat out hate it. Because the lead performances are very strong. And there was something about it that it was intriguing – though it mostly reeked of a missed opportunity; that and it’s A-tier director deciding the best approach was to parade poor people around like stuffed animals as if that might make a Hollywood point. It’s as if Ron Howard’s inner voice was telling him to make a documentary but with famous stars in it. And all that translated to the audience was the idea of a famous filmmaker driven by one word only on repeat: “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar”. Let’s hope not eh. The film is not worthy of any such thing.
But one category where it does deserve a chance, and a big part of what carried the film for me – was the score.
Hans Zimmer is so fucking dependable that we can sometimes forget to check in and give credit to the really good work. He’s also developed a strong rapport with Howard, making several movies together. His work her is certainly his finest for Howard and among his best score-work in years. Assisting him here and rising to co-credit status is talented TV and film composing grad David Fleming (he did excellent work fairly recently on Blue Planet II).
Together they spin a fine thread of rustic Americana – via cello, fiddles and guitars – and place that, always, within the framework of the subtle-blockbuster mode that Zimmer can work so well in. Of course he brings the big noise for the proper-big blockbusters when needed.
In many ways the material here (searing strings on Suffocating, delicate piano on Bev) reminds me of Gabriel Yared’s work. It’s nice to hear Zimmer touching in and around some Americana song-points. The solo cello of Tin Guo is the star here – easily. But there are rustbucket evocations via guitar – particularly dobro, and the wash of strings that pulls it altogether allows for the rise and fall of emotions.
Tonally, the journey of the film was a fucking mess. But tonally its score succeeds on every level. It won’t be for everyone to sit and listen to this as music in and of itself – the country-ness of theme-cues like Kentucky 1997 are just so very filmic as to possibly feel strange on a person’s stereo with no accompanying pictures – but I’m loving this work. I’m a longtime Zimmer fan and it’s easy to forget about the piles of brilliant soundtracks he’s made. There are indeed just so many. But salvaging this from a frustrating movie feels like the right gift to come away with – and there are funereal moments (We Respect Our Dead) and moments of triumph (Steel In Our Veins) that play out away from the movie they were made for as just lovely works of music in their own right.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron