American Ultra

Musical Score By: Marcelo Zarvos

Additional Music By: Paul Hartnoll

Distributed by: Varese Sarabande Records

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                In American Ultra, Jesse Eisenberg is Mike Howell, a stoner working as a store clerk in Liman, West Virginia, contemplating marrying his longtime girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Steward).  Mike's life is turned on its ear with the utterance of a few keywords that activate special programming he went under years ago in the failed Ultra program.  When the creator of a rival program decides to eliminate the last of the competition, Mike's training as a lethal sleeper agent is revealed, but will that training be enough to keep Phoebe and himself alive?

                The music of American Ultra was created by Brazilian composer Marvelo Zarvos, who burst into the film score scene in 2001 with his composition for Kissing Jessica Stein.  Since then, he has composed musical scores for a number of films and television series, including Ray Donovan, The Good Shepherd, The Words, Brooklyn's Finest, Reaching for the Moon, Sin Nombre, Enough Said, The Affair, Cell and more.

                American Ultra is an action film and not exactly the type of movie that Marcelo Zarvos is usually called upon to compose music for.  While Zarvos usually focuses on orchestral elements that express the drama in the films he creates score for, for American Ultra he was called upon to create an action-packed, adrenaline-pumping score.  According to Zarvos, "I always love when a film pushes me to do something different from what Iíve done before.  In the case of American Ultra, director Nima Nourizadeh was very keen on an electronic sounding score, so we could never really picture a person playing an instrument. Even when certain elements were played live, a lot of time was spent processing the sounds so they always felt strange and unexpected.  It was a fun direction that informed the entire score."

                Thus, the entire score for American Ultra has an electronic or synthesized sound to it.  Quieter moments are mixed in to magnify those action scenes in the film and I loved the way the music sort of slows down and distorts when Mike uses his enhanced reflexes and abilities to take on his foes.  Bits of ominous sound and reverb reminds us of the danger surrounding Mike as he tries to keep himself and his girlfriend alive against equally enhanced foes.

                The American Ultra Soundtrack has a late '80s/early '90s rock/synth feel and some amazing high action tracks that get the adrenaline pumping, making this a soundtrack you don't want to listen to in the car if you are prone to speeding.  For someone not used to the action film genre, Zarvos created a perfect score to enhance the film and it makes for a soundtrack well worth the listen.


For feedback, visit our message board or e-mail the author at