Not being familiar with the video game on which Max Payne the movie is based, it’s probably fair to presume part of the score’s chilly electronic design is directly tied to the revenge element that drives the characters, as well as the film’s mystery element.
There’s no grand theme that kicks off Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders’ score, just a 4/4 pulse over which some very fat analogue-type sounds are layered. Whether it’s more rhythmic textures or a digital cimbalom (“Investigation”) evoking the Cold War dramas of the sixties, Max Payne really demonstrates how well composers have managed to find the perfect balance in marrying old and new sounds.
The orchestral crescendo in “Investigation” is also an example of a deliberate fuzzing of what’s formally classical and all-out digital; the peaks of the brass are somewhat blurry, and the strings are less crisp than in Beltrami’s more recent high action score, Die Hard with a Vengeance (2007). The orchestral passages, in fact, share some strong stylistic similarities, but the composers keep the orchestra’s potential for robustness far back so as not to clash with the score’s overall low-key design.
A case in point is “Payneful Piano,” which is basically a series of steely chords over which quasi-digital water chimes play two-note hits to form a dented theme for the titular character. The watery effects for the theme do recall Vangelis’ Blade Runner (X), and given the stylized world of Max Payne includes film noir elements, it’s fitting to evoke a bit of techno noir from a prior (and ground-breaking) fusion of sci-fi and noir.
The most intriguing aspects of the score is the seamless fusion of organic and digital sounds, as well as its moody, slow-burn style, but as an album, the recurrent shifts from pulses to muted brass, long stretches of sombre chords, and the periodic return of rock drums and vintage John Carpenter/Alan Howarth pulses becomes a bit tiresome. Most cues run under 2 minutes, and aside from brief cuts covering tragedy or introspection (“No Respects for You”), there isn’t much of an emotional progression beyond levels of pulsing tension.
The orchestral action cuts (“Lupino Spreads His Wings”) also cover the same frenetic mix of strings and sharply rising brass that Beltrami has used in prior scores, and while it’s completely functional, it also doesn’t offer anything new. Beltrami’s is superlative in crafting modern and classical sounds with retro elements (The Omen is really a mini-masterpiece), but the chief danger for any composer in writing so many action scores over time is stylistic sameness. Max Payne is worth a peek for its technical innovations, but it’s essentially all quite familiar.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan