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Gregson-Williams has a great score for an emotional WWII film with memorable horns, guitars, woodwinds, and even Japanese-themed music pieces.

Music Review: Rupert Gregson-Williams – ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Just like the film, this musical experience will have a profound effect thanks to emotional ebbs, memorable themes, and well-varied movements.

hacksawridge-coverThis strong, 54-minute musical score for the World War II action drama Hacksaw Ridge that chronicles army medic Desmond Doss’s amazing heroics, was composed and produced by British composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (Hotel Rwanda, The Legend of Tarzan, and the upcoming Wonder Woman).

Doss, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) saved countless men on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  

Released on the Varèse Sarabande label, this 16-track Hacksaw Ridge musical score features impressive guitars, woodwinds, and dual horns, especially when repeating the main theme in later songs.

This soundtrack begins with an almost instantly recognizable theme (introduced in “Okinawa Battlefield”). Next, he (Gregson-Williams) anchors Doss’s background and the romantic elements with nurse Dorothy, played by Teresa Palmer (Bedtime Stories) in the first half of the film, ending with the eighth track, “Dorothy Pleads”.

The second half (much like the film), addresses Doss’s wartime actions including some amazing rescue sequences while creating some effective emotional tension. Gregson-Williams also uses Japanese instruments and themes, especially in the second half. I also heard this music in context during my viewing of this Summit Entertainment film.

The opener “Okinawa Battlefield” sets the tone well, advancing to a great small flute about a minute and a half in and then changing in tone (with the scenery) a little after three minutes. “I Could Have Killed Him” features a memorable bluegrass tone with dual violins, and then “A Calling” repeats the main theme.

“Climbing for a Kiss” offers perfect strings (including harp), choral backgrounds, gentle guitars, and additional country/bluegrass tones that echo the historic settings/timeline amid Doss and Dorothy’s budding romance.

“Throw Hell at Him” keeps the strings string going while featuring an electric guitar. “Sleep” focuses on the oboe that repeats the main theme again with piano, orchestral movements, and chimes.

“Dorothy Pleads” slowly ebbs to the main theme at about 90 seconds in; it echoes the dramatic beginning, which foreshadows the dramatic and violent war events in the second half. The piano and warm strings create a tone that matches the emotions.

“Hacksaw Ridge” features impressive piano-driven rhythms, but the haunting ending leads to the fast-paced and nightmarish action in “Japanese Retake the Ridge” that features a “parallel heartbeat” effect. This effect puts the listener (and viewer) into the action.

“I Can’t Hear You” repeats the main theme using brass instruments, which continues stirring emotional responses. “Rescue Continues” adds a haunting flute movement during the last minute, then “A Miraculous Return” returns back to the main theme (probably the best of the repeats).

“Praying” is the most emotional piece. The Japanese style flute echoes the main theme horns very well. The choir pieces and cello sustain this track – the longest in this score. After the score reaches this emotional high point, “Historical Footage” makes a great ending with female vocals and bells accenting several variations on the main themes.

This recommended score was recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios, with an orchestra that included up to 70 musicians and a 36-piece choir. James Horner was the original choice to compose this score but unfortunately passed away last year. Gregson-Williams then succeeded (Horner’s replacement) John Debney with a short timetable and did solid work here. It is worthy of multiple listens – a strong soundtrack that matches the emotions in the recommended film.

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