When it came to composing the score for Scott Cooper’s powerful and brutal new film Hostiles, Max Richter seized the opportunity to try to understand the language that Captain Blocker’s journey offered him. It offered him a chance to create themes not just for the characters, but for the vast landscape Blocker ventures across as he takes a dying Cheyenne chief home.
Read our chat below about how Richter worked to compose the score for Hostiles and consider Richter in your Best Original Score voting.
What’s your process when creating the score for Hostiles?
It’s an amazing bit of storytelling. It’s a journey. You have these characters against the landscape and there are two kinds of music. There’s the environmental music which is theme setting which is the orchestral, avant garde music. It’s all about the voice of the desert and landscape, this terrifying place. Then you have the characters themselves, Blocker, Rosalie and there is the title Hostiles. That’s the more thematic music, more written out for smaller groups which inhabit and populate this gigantic space.
What did you and Scott Cooper discuss in terms of the theme and sound he wanted you to create?
Scott is an incredibly smart and thoughtful guy. He had explored every dimension of this story from every psychological standpoint. When we came to music, we mostly talked about the poetic aspect of it. I went away and started to imagine things and make sketches. We got into a conversational process about the directions we thought were going to work. Scott was easy to work with and trusting of the process.
The sound is tonal and restrained. Can you talk about that as Blocker goes on his journey?
It’s these two languages colliding. You have this orchestra which is used in an abstract way. You generate these almost otherworldly drones, the voice of the desert and landscape, colliding with the thematic material. It is a thematic score, Blocker has his theme, Rosalie has her theme. These things all collide in different ways throughout. You get the melodic foreground music, especially Rosalie’s music. It has a childlike quality, it’s very simple because the theme of children is huge in the film and I wanted to evoke that for her. It’s very tender.
Blocker’s is very dark and seems to descend all the time as he’s getting sucked into the darkness and there’s a drama within the way the musical languages collide in the movie.
What about the music you have surrounding the Native American characters?
In a musical standpoint, their music grows out of the landscape. Rosalie and Blocker are separate from the desert and landscape and they almost feel like they are in an alien world out there. The native music comes from the landscape texture.
How long did the process take you?
It was quite a comfortable process in that they were some way along in the cut when I came on board. I did a lot of world-building writing doing the orchestral material and then I painted those on to the film over a period of a couple of months. I wrote the foreground music as it all came together.
The score is not your typical Western. Did anything in particular influence you?
I was struck by how beautiful the photography was. These sort of iconic and simply composed but very striking images. There’s a lot of silence in the film and not much dialogue and what came to my mind, as a composer was some of those daring and quite abstract musical languages you get in those early Westerns such as a Morricone score. A visual space like that is ripe for an experimental approach. It can accommodate lots in the music and I was excited by the prospect of populating this extraordinary visual field with a unique musical language.
What was your biggest challenge for the Hostiles score?
The thing about Hostiles is it is a very powerful piece of storytelling. It deals with life and death and why we do things and how we author our actions and what it means to be a person. It’s very existential. Why are we doing this? There’s tough material to watch. I guess the challenge is really how to calibrate what you’re doing and not telling the audience what to think. The challenge is judging how much to load up on to each moment in terms of what the music is doing.