In 1997, I heard one of the best and most criminally underrated albums of the decade, that being David Holmes’ Let’s Get Killed. Holmes, born in Ireland, seemed to encapsulate the downtown cool of city life in America in songs that were at once cultured and street smart. There were a few other people who noticed Holmes’ brilliance, which is probably why he got the gig to do the music for the Soderbergh / Clooney film Out of Sight. That partnership then progressed to the remake of Ocean’s 11 and its subsequent sequels.
Through all three films, Holmes’ music captures all of the requisite elements of heist film soundtracks. There’s an underlying layer of Mancini’s Pink Panther scores from the ’60s. There’s a bit of funk / soul / jazz a la Shaft. Heck, there’s even the slight flavor of Scooby-Doo theme music in the mix. Holmes’ scores are retro ’60s cool updated for a new generation, for those unfamiliar with the works of Mancini, Barry, Herrmann, Schifrin, Morricone or Rota. When someone says that an electronic artist’s music is bass heavy, you might not expect that to mean stand-up bass heavy, but that’s what you get with David Holmes’ soul-jazz flavored cinematic music. Not only is each track enjoyable on its own merits, separate from the film, but each song is individual, forcing the viewer / listener to recall the specific scene containing the music in question. This is what a great soundtrack producer does; interminably link the music with the action to create seamless and memorable tableaux. Over the three films working with Soderbergh, Holmes has also linked songs not of his own making, which have also become synonymous with the series. DeBussy’s “Clair de Lune” and Ellington’s “Caravan” appear in the first installment, only to be reprised in altogether new formats in the third.
And who can forget Elvis Presley’s remixed “A Little Less Conversation,” Ornella Vanoni’s “L’Appuntamento” or Dave Grusin’s “Ascension to Virginity.” (Although, for some reason, Ocean’s Twelve was without La Caution’s “Thé à la Menthe” from the Nightfox’s laser dancing sequence.) The third film is no exception, featuring the redone classics from the first film as listed above, and adding Frank Sinatra’s “This Town,” a swingin’ Lee Hazlewood joint from the early sixties, really capturing that late Rat Pack / Vegas / martinis and shag carpets feel. Is it strange to anyone else that this is the first direct nod to the original Rat Pack musically, considering that the original was a remake of the most famous Rat Pack movie in existence? In fact, other than Don Cheadle having played Sammy Davis, Jr. in the Rat Pack, I don’t know of any other tenable connections. Heck, in this third film, there are more connections to the Godfather than to the Rat Pack. You have Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, James Caan’s son, Scott Caan, the character names of Turk and Virgil Molloy taken from Al Lettieri’s character, Virgil “Turk” Solozzo and several mirrored lines of dialogue.
The Ocean’s series of films are famous for a few different reasons including a ton of inside references and Hollywood jokes and being some of the most entertaining heist films ever made. They also boast five Academy Award winning actors, six if you count director Soderbergh, and four more with nominations. Yet, with that entire award winning star power, the true heavyweight, in my mind, is David Holmes. Without his music, there is less humor, less tension and just plain less.
David Holmes / Various Artists – Ocean’s Eleven
Lalo Schifrin – Music from Mission: Impossible
David Arnold – Shaken & Stirred