…and the quest to see everything

HYWYB Shot: Crowds in Perdition

This week’s choice for Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, ROAD TO PERDITION, is undeserving of my tardiness but here it goes. ROAD TO PERDITION is probably my favourite Sam Mendes film because it’s one with the least conflictophiliac historionics, if my newly coined word makes sense. It doesn’t have Kevin Spacey, Jake Gylenhaal or Leonardo di Caprio yelling at their co-stars (AWAY WE GO is up for eventual investigation), and misanthropy never ages well for me. Sure there’s a lot of conflict in this movie too. There’s a scene with Paul Newman‘s character, mob lord John Rooney beating this hit out of his son Connor (Daniel Craig) that can put the latter half of Liam Neeson’s career to shame. But the characters’ destination might be perilous but it’s a smooth ride to get there or in other words, their damnation is certain but it comes as a smoulder instead of a sadistic arsonist.

There are also white picket fences in AMERICAN BEAUTY and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, as well as the glaring deserts in JARHEAD. ROAD TO PERDITION is on the opposite side of the spectrum, evoking what would happen if Norman Rockwell carved in cozy mahogany. And its gloss and shadows, fitting for adapting a graphic novel, will have its echoes in movies today, almost a decade after this one. But it’s always a new experience watching this movie again, the colour palette more diverse, its blocking beautifully done. Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall does all of this while also redefining symmetry, as cheesy as that sounds. Every group of images holds a newly discovered theme. Like this one of crowds!

This shot above is the best of the movie, an introduction to John’s grand-godson Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin). We the audience can barely see him but here he is trying to sell newspapers. Since Michael is our narrator his character transforms into a troubled adolescent. This might be too simple of a character and story arc, but this shot shows the child coexisting with the world-weary, faceless, Kollwitz-like figures. The world is already full of terrible things but his innocence makes him oblivious. He’s also biking towards them, diving inadvertently and cheerily towards damnation. And as a parting gift here’s my second favourite shot that ties in with the first, Michael waiting for his father (Tom Hanks), wading within men looking through the wanted ads during the Depression, a few seconds before he breaks down.

4 responses

  1. totally interesting choices, love the last one especially. I never think about The Great Depression when watching this but maybe I should.

    July 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

    • It was at the butt end of the Prohibition too. Those two periods intersected like it didn’t want to give America a chance. The past sucks.

      This movie is beautiful. I will make it a point to say this to myself once every season.

      July 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

  2. There was something so very eerie about that final shot you choose there with the newspapers. Is it the fact that no one seems to care about Michael? Is it because they all seem old, and I’m secretly an ageist? Is it the sense of being part of a voluminous uncaring whole?

    Not sure, but it still unsettles me.

    July 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    • He’s not allowed upstairs on the upper levels. I just realized what kind of a terrible father Michael Sr. for leaving his child with a bunch of strangers (there was like a child killer the decade before the movie’s time frame). It speaks a lot about how there are no sanctioned spaces for children during that time and it’s devastating to realize that.

      July 13, 2012 at 9:52 am

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