A sharp black comedy unfortunately packaged as an all-star, action extravaganza, the headlining names of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are both a help and hindrance to Knight and Day. Both actors, very adept at both comedy and edginess, are clearly on the same page as character director James Mangold (Walk the Line; 3:10 to Yuma)... but of course with big names come certain expectations. So, at the halfway point, it inevitably descends into noisy silliness, a pity given the excellent set-up (Diaz accidentally ending up on the same plane as potentially unstable spy Cruise where he wipes out the passengers and the pilots).
Musically at least, Mangold found a safe pair of hands in the form of John Powell, without doubt the finest action composer of the moment. Much like his director, Powell acutely taps into the deranged zaniness of Cruise's central character, scoring both him and much of the film with an unexpectedly exotic Mariachi flavour. It highlights Powell's brilliant ability to fuse authentic ethnic sounds with the humour of his animation scores and the energy of his live-action efforts. It bears resemblance, perhaps unsurprisingly, to his Latino flavoured effort for Mr and Mrs Smith.
The opener "At the Airport" puts all the elements into play, clad in Powell's usual confident, energetic style, fusing electronics with the witty orchestra perfectly. "Rough Landing" continues in a similar light-hearted vein, building to a frantic climax; but "Trouble I-93" is the first truly engaging piece of action music, clad in an appropriately sassy Bondian atmosphere complete with sexy brass trills courtesy of the main theme's first appearance. Later on, "Galley Fight" and "Rooftops" continue in the same vein.
Another trait that will be familiar to fans of the composer is his tendency to introduce the central theme or motif gradually, deploying it with increased volume at the climax. The same approach applies here: the theme carries with it a wonderfully romantic, florid feel of moody bravado, underscoring the emotional journey Diaz' June undergoes with Cruise's Miller. "Running from Roy", "To the Island of Love" and "In Austria" are terrific mood-builders, adding on the layers of electronics, electric guitars and smooth strings that are hallmarks of Powell's style. The mix of synths and orchestra is wonderfully organic and tasteful; the composer does it better than anyone else. There are also some neat little instrumental nuances reflecting the globe-trotting nature of the film, including a Slavic cimbalom in "Five Star" and the accordion in "June Spies".
The real highlight though is the penultimate track, "Bull Run", a magnificent, enormously exciting piece of contemporary action scoring. With the main theme getting a rapturous rendition on Mariachi trumpets and castanets, it's one of the finest pieces of Powell's career to date. Refreshingly, after all the bluster, the composer chooses to end on a warm homely note in "Going to Cape Horn? Take a Jacket", the central theme getting a pleasant airing on acoustic guitar. (Some of the guitar-playing on the soundtrack comes courtesy of the phenomenal guitar duo "Rodrigo y Gabriela". Check out UK and other tour dates on their official website at www.rodgab.com.)
Ultimately, while Knight and Day may not appear to offer anything new, it invites, as do all Powell's efforts, closer inspection to dig out all the nuances and witty touches and layers of invention. It's another fine effort from the most dynamic and versatile of modern film composers. The soundtrack is available for purchase and download from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.