Composer Nicholas Britell reunited with two past collaborators for high-profile December releases: Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) on “If Beale Street Could Talk” and Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) on “Vice.”
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” based on the James Baldwin novel of young lovers in 1970s Harlem, is “a really powerful take on modern American injustice,” Britell says, yet at its heart is a love story. “It’s mostly cellos and basses,” he explains, “because to us that felt like love – romantic love, parents’ love for their children, an almost idealized kind of love. The brass elements came to symbolize the heights, the joys, the lows.”
The licensed jazz – especially the Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Nina Simone tracks – “puts you in the time and place. There’s something amazing about source music and score: if they interact, it almost feels like the screen vanishes and you enter into the world of the characters.”
For “Vice,” McKay’s comedy-drama about former Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), Britell started discussing music with the director long before shooting. “It’s a very symphonic score, and there’s a lot of dissonance,” the composer says. “The film explores the story of his life and the story of America in parallel, and the music explores different genres as it all evolves over the decades of the story.”
“Vice” demanded a 90-piece orchestra for Britell’s music, which ranges from solo piano to classically styled orchestral music to big-band jazz.