Following their collaboration on the 2011 SXSW Film Festival entry Hide Away, composer duo Tony Morales and Edward Rogers have teamed up once more to score first-time director David Grovic’s crime thriller The Bag Man. Grovic’s movie tells the story of Jack (John Cusack), a small-time hit man hired by the sinister Dragna (Robert De Niro) to carry out a vague and dangerous task. It wouldn’t be a De Niro film without a little gang interest, and Grovic’s self-penned script certainly packs it in, featuring a vast supporting cast brandishing weapons and promising menace.
To complement the film’s offbeat underworld, Grovic requested that Morales and Rogers create something equally unpredictable. The first few tracks of the score are interesting, somehow managing to balance traditional rhythmical thriller tropes with moody, bluesy undertones. The sliding strings and erratic percussion of the title track in particular work wonders for Grovic’s narrative. There’s a rawness to the music, due in most part to the ingenious use of bowed double bass. “A Dark and Lonely Road” also flaunts its mercurial tone, this time in a jazz bass line. The success of this track is largely because of the instrumental choices of Morales and Rogers, whose combination of strings, guitar, drums and tuned percussion cuts through the heart of the film. At its best, the music is simultaneously intriguing, sinister and humorous, finding a tongue-in-cheek awareness of its own genre. The result is pleasantly brash.
As the soundtrack progresses, however, the music begins to lose its way. Whereas earlier tracks contained the pounding thriller elements within a bluesy theme, later on the sound becomes more disparate, as if the composers had somehow lost their magic formula. “Taking Lizard Out for a Ride,” for example, is missing the fine balance of some of the earlier tracks, instead featuring an aggressive drum beat as its driving force. On the other hand, the final track, “Absolution,” lacks rhythm until its closing minutes, at which point it sounds as if one completely different cue has been attached to another.
What the music promises in its opening tracks is sadly not delivered throughout the remainder of the score. Morales’ and Rogers’ unusual blend of rousing beats and lethargic guitar riffs disappears somewhere in the sound, and instead gives way to impressionistic overtones and brutal drumming. If the score had stuck to its initial instincts, perhaps the end result would’ve been more coherent.