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The Equalizer (Harry Gregson-Williams)

September 29, 2014

Cover_EqualizerTHE EQUALIZER

Harry Gregson-Williams, 2014, Varese Sarabande
11 tracks, 51:38

Harry Gregson-Williams ‘returns’ to the big screen with this gritty thriller. Expect plenty of percussive loops and echo-y synth pads. Or will he reinvent the wheel for this?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

In “The Equalizer”, Denzel Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him to lead a quiet life in peace. But when McCall meets Teri, a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t just stand by – he has to help her. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, it stars Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo.  After having worked with Mark Mancina (“Training Day”), Hans Zimmer (“Tears of the Sun”) and Trevor Morris (“Olympus Has Fallen”), the director chose Harry Gregson-Williams to score his latest film. Based on those previous collaborations, it seemed like only a matter of time before these two would find each other.

Gregson-Williams has not sat still recently (working on documentaries and video games), though seems to have taken a little break from Hollywood following the tragic death of friend and frequent collaborator Tony Scott. “The Equalizer” is his first Hollywood feature film score since “Total Recall” in 2012. “Blackhat”, “Southpaw” and the documentary “Monkey Kingdom” appear to be amongst his next projects.

What does it sound like?

Harry Gregson-Williams says of the score: “Because the director wanted the action to be believable, the score had to be rooted in reality. We couldn’t have French horns announcing this character as if he were some super hero. Consequently, there’s quite a dark tinge to his theme, and I learned quite early on that to bring real darkness to any given scene, it’s necessary to have a little ray of light somewhere in order to contrast the colors.” The composer continues: “I took a two-pronged attack with the protagonist’s music – one avenue followed his action, which was bold, strong, and noisy, while the other was quite sensitive and introspective.

Some of that ‘bold, strong and noisy‘ comes in the form of the inevitable ‘horns of doom’. It appears in “McCall’s Decision”, a cue that starts off somewhat introspectively with an eerie cello over electronic rumblings; but halfway in that sound appears. It’s not really a horn (it probably never was) — it’s more like a heavily granulated noise. The composer adds an echoing electric guitar to it, but the effect is all the same (for better or worse). It’s amazing how no-one seems capable of making a thriller these days without requesting that noise. In fairness, it only appear in two cues.

Elsewhere there are electronic arpeggios, electric guitar stabs and percussive loops. It’s high-energy material often off-set against mournful strings (the only acoustic instruments on this score). Harry Gregson-Williams has done this kind of thing many times before. As such, there is nothing new here, but that’s not to say that “The Equalizer” isn’t worth exploring. The composer is quite the master when it comes to these electronic sounds and manipulations. With him, it sounds like it’s all an integral part of the composition — as it should be of course, but many other composers do struggle with it and with them the loops are either a means to an end or they sound like an afterthought. Not here, though.

The slow electric guitar-like arpeggios in “It’s All a Lie” (and later in “The Equalizer”) are particular interesting and have a real feel of determination about them. They actually remind me of Hybrid, an electronic band with whom Harry Gregson-Williams worked on “Man on Fire”. I was pleasantly surprised (and a wee bit proud) to find Hybrid co-credited for Programming (alongside Justin Burnett and Phil Klein). Maybe I should point out that I didn’t read the booklet until after a couple of listens.

The ‘sensitive and introspective‘ elements of the score are represented by slow strings, soft synth pads, piano and guitar. Again there is nothing groundbreaking here, yet cues like “Alone”, “Change Your World”, “A Quiet Voice” are perfectly pleasant. All the score’s various elements come together in the closing track “The Equalizer”. The steadfast loops provide a sense of purpose, whilst the strings and pads add a welcome hint of melancholy.

Is it any good?

It’s very well executed, but sounds exactly like I’ve come to expect from Harry Gregson-Williams for a thriller like this. The same string chords, the same distant piano, the same (or at least similar) electronic loops. Now, I happen to like this style and I can quite happily spend fifty minutes listening to it, but “The Equalizer” has no unique identiy. Within minutes I’ve forgotten which score I’m listening to. I’m finding it difficult to differentiate between this and scores like “The Number 23”, “Man on Fire” or “Phonebooth”. At least “The Rundown” featured some Latin influences to set it apart from the others. All that this latest score makes me want to do, is play “Spy Game” again, which (in my opinion) is still the composer’s best entry in this genre; and seemingly the one after which all those others have been modelled. So whilst I do really enjoy “The Equalizer” and would gladly recommend it to fans of the above listed scores, it does come with the caveat that it’s merely more of the same.

Rating [2.5/5]


01. Alone (4.09)
02. Change Your World (4.08)
03. McCall’s Decision (4.10)
04. On a Mission (3.52)
05. Corrupt Cops (2.48)
06. A Quiet Voice (3.39)
07. It’s All a Lie (10.36)
08. Concerned Citizens (2.44)
09. Make An Exception (5.09)
10. Torturing Frank (3.44)
11. The Equalizer (6.39)



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