Composer Tom Holkenborg Creates A Haunting Score For BLACK MASS - We Are Movie Geeks


Composer Tom Holkenborg Creates A Haunting Score For BLACK MASS

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Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp stars as notorious mobster Whitey Bulger in the drama BLACK MASS, from director Scott Cooper (CRAZY HEART). The film explores how a deal between ruthless gangster Whitey Bulger and FBI Agent John Connolly enabled Bulger to expand his criminal empire with complete impunity, as Connolly – blinded by his own ambition – shielded him from investigation, ignoring the rising body count.

Cooper has said, “I wanted to explore the bonds of brotherhood and the bonds of loyalty, but also the unbridled ambition, avarice and hubris that drove these people. It was important to me not to simply tell a story about criminals that happened to be human, but to tell a story about humans, reprehensible or not, who happened to be criminals. And never losing sight of the fact that, in Boston in the 1970s and `80s, certain lawmen and criminals were virtually indistinguishable.”

To achieve that tone musically, Cooper teamed with composer Tom Holkenborg on the scoring stage.

Holkenborg recently created the score for George Miller’s blockbuster MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and Jaume Collet-Serra’s RUN ALL NIGHT.  He is also scoring a wide range of upcoming films, including the reimagining of the action thriller POINT BREAK, the crime comedy KILL YOUR FRIENDS, and Zack Snyder’s much-anticipated action adventure BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.


While writing the score for BLACK MASS, Holkenborg recalls, “When I saw the movie, I literally came out with sweat on my hands and my knees were shaking. It was very impressive and had an enormous impact on me.”

“I knew that was a good start,” Cooper smiles. “He said, ‘Let me go away and write something, and I’ll be back to you in one week.’ So he comes back in a week with 48 minutes of music that absolutely crushed me. It was gorgeous. It had all the emotion and the pathos that I wanted and this unsettling feeling that would ultimately course through the narrative. And born out of that suite, Tom crafted a beautifully evocative score that helped give the film its shape.”

“The first thing I thought about was what I was going to do for Whitey,” says Holkenborg. “He’s such an evil person, so incredibly dark, I wanted to write a theme that would underscore the darkness but also convey the multiple facets of the character. What I came up with is a reoccurring pattern in the low frequencies, heard through piano and cello.”

“I think the music really helps take the audience inside the unpredictable and fractured psyche of Whitey Bulger,” Cooper observes.

The composer created a rising and falling melody to serve as the theme for John Connolly. He illustrates, “His theme comes from a low note and goes to a high note that sounds like it’s reaching to go even higher but never can, and then goes back to low. It’s like he wants so badly to climb up and then something pulls him back down, and as the movie progresses that becomes more and more intense.”

Connolly’s theme also features a cello motif, which “actually fits multiple personalities in the film. In fact, the cello is the main instrument in the score,” Holkenborg relates.

“The cello is one of my favorite instruments,” Cooper says. “It has an extremely mournful but powerful quality. The music is at times propulsive with a full orchestra, other times with a lush string section. But there are moments, unnerving moments, where it’s just a very small selection of strings or a solo cello.”

Another instrument featured in the score is the pipe organ. “It just made sense; I mean the movie is called ‘Black Mass,’” justifies Holkenborg, who bought an organ specifically to use on the film. “It’s a beautiful instrument and it was nice to have with all its sound capacities. And it was great that Scott embraced it because the point is to serve the ideas the director has for the film.

“With this movie,” he continues, “we agreed restraint was key. But within that range, I had all the creative freedom I could possibly get from a director. I tried to give him something that was out of the ordinary—a little left of center—and he was very welcoming to the emotionally stirring sounds that I felt we needed for the characters in the film.”

“Tom is an incredibly diverse composer who fully comprehended the doomed relationship between Whitey Bulger and John Connolly and a city that was forever scarred by Bulger’s exploits,” Cooper reflects.

The Soundtrack is available now on Apple Music:

BLACK MASS opens in theaters Friday, Sept. 18.


Huge passion for film scores, lives for the Academy Awards, loves movie trailers. That is all.

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