Hart's War (Soundtrack) by Rachel Portman



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Hart's War (Soundtrack) by Rachel Portman

"Beyond Courage, Beyond Chocolat"
Review by Matt Peterson


Hart's War (Soundtrack) by Rachel Portman

Hart's War

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ategory  |   Score

Originality 8
Music Selection 8
Composition 9
CD Length 8
Track Order 7
Performance 8
Final Score 8/10






Real Audio Clips



Rachel Portman
Rachel Portman


Quick Quotes

"Aside from debating the merits of the Hart's War score for its genre, it is still an impressively dramatic piece of music. She interpolates her omnipresent piano into several cues, reminding the listener of the shades of Cliff Eidelman's early war scoring efforts. Aside from the film, the score is consistently powerful in substance and thematically pleasing."

Christian Clemmensen - Filmtracks Reviews
Hart's War




Composed and Produced by Rachel Portman
Conducted by David Snell
Orchestration by Jeff Atmajian
Soprano Saxophone: Simon Haram
Trumpet Solo: Andrew Crowley
Released by Decca Records - February 12, 2002

As the film’s tagline reads, Hart’s War is a film that goes “Beyond Courage, Beyond Honor.” The film was misrepresented in its advertising campaign as a member of the action/thriller genre. The TV spots basically edited together every frame of the film’s action scenes. In fact, Hart’s War is a character study and a courtroom drama, combined with an escape (the objective of which is to send men to destroy a nearby ammunition factory). Due to this confusion, word of mouth on the film was not strong, and its theatrical run was ultimately limited. This is unfortunate, since Hart’s War is a strong, intelligent film that goes beyond the conventional war picture, and explores the introspective dynamics of the soldiers who are not only imprisoned by the enemy, but by their own ambitions, morals, and obligations. It even explores the deep rooted, yet rarely depicted racism among the American GIs during WWII (directed at two Tuskegee Airmen in the film). As director Gregory Hoblit states in the liner notes, “Hart’s War is fundamentally about captured American soldiers finding grace, dignity and honor in the face of extremely difficult and deadly circumstances...”

At this point, the film score fan would ask: “Why in the world is Rachel Portman scoring this picture?” More well known for her whimsical, melodic scores for domestic comedies and dramas, Rachel Portman certainly seems like an unlikely choice to score a hard hitting, testosterone-induced war film. The unconventional approach to the subject matter in the film demands an unconventional approach to the score. Portman’s composition is by no means a standard war score, but excels in its direction and purpose. In retrospect, Portman is a brilliant choice for this picture, bringing a solemn, driving sense of urgency, patriotism, and introspection to the film’s musical voice--a choice that enhances the film, and creates a compelling, but not perfect, soundtrack album. Her more gentle musical sensibilities, captured in scores such as The Cider House Rules, Jane Eyre, and the Academy Award Nominated Chocolat, are put to use here, yet are challenged. The end result features all the Portman trademarks-- piano solos, heavy string underscore, and a strong theme--but ultimately shows her abilities can go beyond what has come before.

Hart’s War features one of the most stunning main themes I have heard in a long time. It’s major/minor shifts, trumpet solo by Andrew Crowley, and lush string underscore create a theme that is powerful, patriotic, and noble. Some may notice a certain similarity to the opening bars of John Williams’ JFK theme, and the chord progressions of Mark Isham’s October Sky and Rules of Engagement. Unfortunately, this theme appears in all its glory only twice on the album (in “Final Salute” and in [ack, spoiler ahead!] “McNamara Trades His Life”), and sadly, only once in the actual film! Nevertheless, this is the kind of theme that makes film score fans happy to be alive. The rest of the score features several common motifs, the most prominent of which is a driving, two note progression with a string underscore that keeps the tempo, and creates the tension, urgency, and suspense needed at certain moments in the film. The midsection of this album does get repetitive, and may even be slightly dull to some, but I found it to be compelling and varied enough to keep me interested. Tempos change, crescendos abound, and textures remain relatively consistent, providing a smooth listen. Highlights include “Visser Finds Tunnel,” a driving, 6+ minute cue that increases in layers, textures, and intensity until it breaks into a interesting series of key shifts, accompanied by the sparingly used, yet effective trumpet. The end of “Scott’s Macon, Georgia Story/Train Yard Strafing and Bombing” features the “action music” of the album, which defies convention. It is essentially a more accelerated layering of the motifs featured throughout the album, including the characteristic driving strings, which emulates the momentum and sound of a train (on which the POWs are transported). The sound is almost similar to the beginning of James Horner’s “The River Crossing To Stalingrad” from Enemy at the Gates. Some tracks are weaker, like “Scott Railroaded,” which basically repeats the same motif (with slight variations). The final two tracks of the album could easily form a suite for the film, featuring both the majestic main theme, and the driving textures of the album’s midsection. Overall, this is a lush, unconventional, well crafted, and layered score from Rachel Portman that has enough solid material to prove effective in the film, and to stand up in album form. Since the album’s running time is not too long, it’s a digestible, enjoyable listen.

Hopefully, once Hart’s War hits video and DVD this July, more people will take the time to discover its strengths, and to hear Portman’s score in context. I must admit, I was frustrated when I saw the film. Don’t get me wrong--I enjoyed the film immensely. Going in, I had already heard Portman’s triumphant main theme, and was expecting it to be blaring over the main titles. However, the second track of the album opens the film, providing a backdrop of non thematic textures. Throughout the film, the score progresses, grows, and evolves until it become mature enough to state its main theme (during the final scene). In retrospect, this approach adds up, which, like the film and the score, is unconventional. The characters, whose ambitions and loyalties are uncertain from the beginning, form respective identities by the film’s end. The score’s rich development, which always seems to hint at something greater that what the music reveals, mirrors this progression, and rightfully so. The most notable shortcoming is its somewhat repetitive nature. Nevertheless, Portman’s sensibilities have grown, creating a score which will endure.

Track Listing and Ratings


Title Time


1 Final Salute Track 2 - Across the Stars 3:25  *****
2 Hart Captured and Interrogated 5:19  ****
3 Scott's Macon, Georgia Story/
Train Yard Strafing and Bombing
3:52  ****
4 Visser Testifies 3:07  ***
5 Visser Finds Tunnel 6:45  *****
6 March to Stalag 6A 3:18  ****
7 Archer Shot Dead 1:13  ***
8 Scott Railroaded 3:17  ***
9 "Everything is OK, Tommy" 1:52  ****
10 Blackened Face Testimony 2:36  ***
11 Hart Finds Bedford's Stash 1:03  ***
12 Hart Discovers Tunnel 3:30  ****
13 McNamara Trades His Life 2:47  *****
14 End CreditsTrack 2 - Across the Stars 2:59  ****

Total Running Time


*The Experience-O-Meter displays the track to track listening experience of this soundtrack based on the 5-Star rating given to each track.  It provides a visual depiction of the ebbs and flows of the CD's presentation of the soundtrack.


Referenced Reviews
Enemy at the Gates  |  October Sky



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