The strength of Henry Jackman’s darkly dramatic score for The Gray Man lies in its opening suite; it’s an unusually lengthy piece, but it makes up for that by sporting an intensely rich atmosphere that then gradually builds into grandiosely dramatic action score, overall pretty perfectly capturing the emphatic action style of the film while also being rather entertaining all by itself.
A seventeen minute long suite opens Henry Jackman’s score for The Gray Man. It’s rather an unusual endeavour with which to open a soundtrack album, especially for a perhaps lesser known, non-franchised (yet) movie such as this, though I must say I was intrigued by it as a result. What on earth could Jackman be offering here that could justify a score cue as lengthy as seventeen minutes? As it turns out actually, quite a lot. The action thriller/espionage-y genre of the film obviously leaves a great many options open compositional style-wise, and interestingly the suite opts to use a considerable amount of them as a result. The track begins shrouded in mystery and ambience, as some quietly morose, atmospheric electronics & piano notes play in a similarly eerie manner to that of some of Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s score for Blade Runner 2049. As the track continues though the music starts to pick up the pace, as increasingly aggressive electronic beats gradually build up into play and the cue slowly becomes quite dramatically menacing as a result. An ominous, moody atmosphere then really starts to take hold at the seven minute mark, hammering home the dark, gritty, spy-like tone of the film while also continuing to build in both intensity and volume.
It isn’t until much later in the suite however (near the thirteen minute mark) after a considerable amount of build-up that we’re actually introduced to the main themes of the score; the first is a darkly sinister, malevolent-sounding motif for villain Lloyd Hansen (played by Chris Evans in the film), that’s introduced here on aggressive electronics and some distorted, high-pitched jazzy brass notes. With the musical villainy established, for the final few minutes of the suite the score then shifts back into its earlier darkly ambient tone, this time however also echoing a thunderously imposing six note new motif for main character Sierra Six (played by Ryan Gosling), which then slowly builds up the suite to a near deafeningly dramatic crescendo over the course of its remaining minutes, closing the cue on pretty much as loudly climactic a musical note as possible.
Overall as opening tracks go, “The Gray Man” suite is certainly something. It starts off in an almost generic, RCP-esque manner that nearly makes you groan, but as it then builds it starts to become much more interesting, building tone and ambience in a very 2049-esque manner as mentioned, with a main theme that then only amplifies the densely atmospheric, moodily malevolent music here. At seventeen minutes long you really do have to give quite a lot of time to satisfy, but it’s loudly dramatic, rousing yet also rather imposing final five minutes alone make it all worth it (at least for me). All-in, it’s an oddly lengthy start to a soundtrack album, but one that did genuinely have me intrigued and entertained, which for a seventeen minute opening track is no small feat. Now though, let’s see if the rest of the score stays as interesting.
“Bangkok” opens with similar electronic beats to that of the opening suite, continuing with that same dimly dramatic tone for much of the cue’s opening minute. As the music continues however it then settles somewhat into quiet ambience, with what sounds like an actual ticking clock also clicking into place alongside the electronics until the cue then simply fades out a minute or so later. Action then enters the fray in “To Kill Your Own”, with some very Blade Runner 2049-esque electronics opening the piece (again, playing very similarly to that of the suite), with tense percussive beats and lengthy, ominous synth notes surging the cue forward to its end at just over two minutes long. “A Question Of Loyalty” then slows the music back down, with low-pitched, moodily ominous brass notes seeding a rather downtrodden mood alongside slow, solemn strings.
“An Old Friend” then continues in this same vein initially, with the quietly sombre piano notes from the opening minutes of the suite then taking the reins in the back half of the piece. “Lloyd Hansen” then, as you might expect, starts to drag the score back down into ominous, malevolent territory with the distorted jazzy beats and brass notes from the villain’s thematic section of the suite returning in now typically aggressive form. “Sky High” however kicks things up a notch, as the score’s first major action setpiece; you know something’s up right off the bat as loudly dramatic, in-your-face percussion grabs your attention, with the darkly dramatic electronic beats from midway through the suite then taking centre stage for much of the cue’s three minute runtime. With the full orchestra also now building in the background, the main theme then makes a dramatic appearance in the final minute of the piece, bowing the action cue out a few seconds later on thunderously climactic brass.
The densely atmospheric, electronics-heavy side of the score returns in the first half of “Where’s The Target?”, with the foreboding electronic beats from the opening suite also returning to help bolster the increasingly unnerving tone. In the back half however things start to pick up, with the six note main theme for Sierra Six playing on unusually hopeful brass until the cue then closes out on a rather worrisome crescendo a few seconds later. “Unexpected Ally” and the first half of “An Honorable End” then harken back to the quietly electronic, more ambient area of the album before the pace then starts to quicken in the back half of the latter cue, then leading into the score’s next major action setpiece; “Tango In Prague”. A burst of aggressive brass kicks this one off, with rapid, worrisome strings and angry percussive notes leading the musical charge for much of the rather tense next few minutes. At around the halfway point though the main theme then practically sprints into the musical scene, appearing briefly and worriedly initially before then circling back around right at the end for a lengthy and very dramatically in-your-face brass-heavy rendition.
“Ghost In The Machine” is practically drenched in musical melancholy, with solemn piano notes and heartfelt, downtrodden strings occupying much of its sadly short minute and a half runtime. Subsequent cue “Against All Odds” then unsurprisingly pulls the tone back into action territory, with increasingly frenetic strings and low bursts of aggressive brass slowly building the tension for the first two minutes or so. The orchestra then rises considerably in the back half however, with a loudly emphatic rendition of Sierra Six’s main theme concluding the piece in a similarly brass-based manner to that of “Tango In Prague”. The following cue “Missing A Wing” then picks up where “Against All Odds” leaves off to start with, with fast-paced brassy bursts and worrisome strings leading the opening charge before the track then slows down a little as more solemn, pensive strings take over in the final minute.
Foreboding electronics open “Under The Blood-Red Sun”, building quietly in the background for much of the three minute piece before dramatic, high-pitched strings and brass then arrive, and the cue closes out on a roaring crescendo. Quiet, suspenseful ambience is the stylistic centrepiece of subsequent and rather short track “Internal Affairs”, with solemn strings then entering the fray for the quietly melancholic “Bed Of Secrets”. At only ninety seconds long this rather mournful cue sadly doesn’t spend much time sticking around either, but it’s use of instrumentation is pretty enjoyable all the same. With the album overall now starting to draw to a close, “Exoneration” harkens back to the quietly ominous style of the opening minutes of the suite initially, before some slow, almost funeral-esque brass then joins the fray and the remainder of the cue then follows in a similarly downtrodden tone. The loudly dramatic electronics beats from midway through the suite then return one last time in final track “Always Gray”, closing the album out surprisingly sans-themes, but very atmospherically.
Overall, Henry Jackman’s score for The Gray Man is an interesting one for sure. The opening seventeen minute long suite is the absolute highlight of the album, building quite a rich musical atmosphere for the score that initially shrouds itself in quiet, spy-like secrecy, before the music then slowly builds with some rather Blade Runner 2049-esque electronics until two rather enjoyable main themes then loudly and rather dramatically emerge; a distortedly jazzy, malevolent motif for Chris Evan’s villain Lloyd Hansen, and a tense, brass-heavy theme for Ryan Gosling’s protagonist Sierra Six. The latter theme then builds the suite to a rather emphatic, in-your-face crescendo, making for quite an entertainingly loud finish to a pretty densely atmospheric track.
That being said though, you may have noticed that I’ve focused a lot on the suite in my concluding paragraph here, and that’s because to be honest, it’s pretty much all you really need to listen to with this score. Don’t get me wrong, the compositional style overall is good, and there are a couple of really solid action cues too dotted around the album (“see Tango In Prague”), but the suite pretty much showcases all the thematic and stylistic ideation that you’re going to find in the full score, with the various thematic renditions across the score even playing pretty much exactly as they do in the suite (see the final few seconds of action setpieces “Sky High” and “Tango In Prague” for the main theme doing this), which leaves the full album overall feeling like little more than a larger extrapolation of the suite as a result.
The suite and aforementioned action cues do make for a pretty compelling listen though, so if nothing else; give them a go.
Standout Cue: 1. The Gray Man
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