Directed and co-written by Navot Papushado, "Gunpowder Milkshake" is set in a world populated by assassins, crime bosses and their goons, with frequent gangland hits and mass shootouts. Nevertheless it is a fun movie! Karen Gillan (Amy from Doctor Who & Nebula from the MCU) plays a young assassin who has major issues with her mother, also an assassin played by Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones). The interpersonal issues are complex and give another layer to the movie, fleshing out the characters and their motivations, though the stylistic glue holding the movie together is the action. There are many action scenes involving guns, swords, knives and other weapons, often in graphic slo-mo, and generally speaking it's the women who trounce the men, even against overwhelming odds. The men are mostly faceless interchangeable "goons", but the crime bosses led by Paul Giamatti play a slightly more prominent role. The two female leads are assisted by various female friends who, despite their current careers, seem to be all too familar with weaponry. It's a movie which unashamedly puts style over realism, and into this mix Papushado brings composer Frank Iflman with whom he has previously worked on "Rabies" and "Big Bad Wolves".
Ilfman clearly recognises the movie's core features: the tongue-in-cheek setting, the larger-than-life characters, the bold mythic plot points and the stylised slow motion action sequences. And he has fashioned a musical tone which draws in part on other movies with similar touch points, such as the so-called Spaghetti Westerns and the music of Ennio Morricone. But the early tracks are there to establish the main theme and its associated chords and accompaniment, and the ever-present sound of a cimbalom playing 5-note sequences, as though harking back to those 60s spy movies which followed the lead set by John Barry's Ipcress File. The titular "Gunpowder Milkshake" joins the thematic elements together with a dreamy version of the main theme. This already hints at the breadth of thematic potential, and also underlines the fact that the film has a number of flashbacks which explain and expand on character relationships. As with movies of this type, there is a balance between tension and anticipation on the one hand, and full out action on the other and several tracks fall into one or other category or transition between the two. Nevertheless Ilfman delivers plenty of shading and variation on the tension-action spectrum as the story unfolds.
The title of "Goonfight at Gutterball Corral" already hints at a parallel with Western movies, and this track is an important one since it accompanies a major set-piece in the film. Ilfman starts with a simple guitar beat under a whistled melody, and you are already beginning to get a Morricone vibe. Then it becomes blatantly obvious when male vocals sing "we can fight" as in "A Fistful of Dollars". The drums ramp it up a notch and, if it wasn't obvious enough already, Ilfman even has a soprano providing vocals alla "Ecstasy of Gold" from "The Good the Bad and the Ugly". This track is loads of fun and helps to cement the scene in one's memory long after the plot has moved on. The composer is careful not to go too far down the Morricone trail though. While other later tracks have subtle hints of spaghetti western, this is the most outrageous stylistic statement and bears repeated listening. There is a video from Sony Soundtracks which illustrates the recording of this track, which you can find at this youtube link: Goonfight at Gutterball Corral.
Subsequent tracks such as "The Monsters" introduce a 4-note descending motif. "Rock Monster" seems to blend modern electronic sounds with retro-60s and then the comedic "Yankee and the Goons" has a Steptoe beat with accordian and fun percussion. "La Balada de los Charros" seems so different in tone, it almost feels like a song track rather than score. The song has a Latin vibe with vocals and trumpet. It could almost be a Mexican track adding to the Tex-Mex Western feel. Some following tracks such as "Are You a Serial Killer?" and "The Sam and Emily Story" have an innocent childlike quality with a simple melody, and this is associated with a street-wise child who is adopted by the Karen Gillan character. It adds another facet to the story, another generation to the family mix and of course another theme to the score. The action tracks get more frequent as the story heads towards its conclusion. "To The Death" starts with a reverential organ arpeggio and gathers intensity to a resounding climax as the main theme returns.
Ifman continues to satisfy and surprise as the score draws to a close with the elegaic "Red Dot Marks The Spot". The last two tracks in the album might look like song tracks on the soundtrack listing, but they are both based on the score: "Sam's Theme" is the main theme played by score orchestrator Jeff Atmajian on piano, and "Ensemble pour toujours" by Susana Nakatan, and 60s French pop girl-band Les belles et le Beat cheekily mimicking yet another Morricone song. The "Gunpowder Milkshake" score is a lot of fun and recommended as an entertaining listen. It is available to stream/download at: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.