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.
- Hit Me With Your Best Shot: “Road to Perdition” (thefilmexperience.net)
I was having an hour-long conversation with a critic who will choose to name himself if he wants to. I choose for his anonymity because my few disagreements with some of his arguments will make me look like the kind of douche who uses the internet to talk back. I have to write about the movie we talked about weeks after I saw it, I guess. Meant no harm.
Our conversation got to his dislike of rape revenges, leading to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He dislikes the book – yay! – Oplev’s adaptation – hated that too! – and Fincher’s version. Wait, what? That movie is gunning for a place in my list top movies of 2011! People who apparently watch this polished turd – my words – wouldn’t be caught dead in an equally schlock-y Saw series.
I agree that Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a false and misguided conception of the left-wing’s more extreme version of himself, stemming from white male guilt that does more harm than good. Speaking of fetishizations it also relies on the concept that rich people makes Charles Manson’s childhood seem normal. I explained to him that as a fifth-generation nobody that the riches are more like the Kings in The Descendants with some of “Revenge’s” Amanda Clarke.
I’m a 90’s kid but that’s exactly the problem, lumping him with other movies I outgrew. Most of what governs my taste as a film viewer is my re-education when I was in college, shoving away the shock violent quirk of 90’s American indie movies. Fincher always has ‘something missing’ anyway. Se7en is elegant yet chooses one form of elitism over another. Fight Club is boy stuff. Zodiac and The Social Network seem cold. TSN specifically feels like a missed opportunity as Sorkin’s one liners feel stunted through an emotionally distant lens. Ben Button is fine.
I was sceptical of Dragon Tattoo because of the bad reviews Alien 3 and Panic Room and if you add TSN‘s yucky gender politics I’d even conclude that Fincher doesn’t know women. But Dragon Tattoo pumped my adrenaline from the opening credits and as the movie continues, I exclaimed yeah! he’s back to form and these people are hitting each other! But why do I like that he’s back to form now even though I stopped liking his form for half a decade now? And why am I responding to this movie that’s supposedly more vulgar than his earlier work?
It’s the mood, isn’t it? Jeff Cornenweth’s cinematography of the snow and the cozy interiors. Lisbeth’s techno-gothic iFetish. Techno-gothic also applies to the howls escaping Martin Vanger’s (Stellan Skarsgard) Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house built on top of a ‘laundry room’ on top of a priest’s house. I can almost hear Trent Reznor pressing down harder on his keyboard. A push and pull from the aesthetic making the subject simmer down.
The performances are also great, Fincher fleshing out scenes while screenwriter Steve Zaillian economizing the characters’ words. Mara is indisputably great under Fincher’s direction, screaming during the right times and deadpan in others. She can be as sexual aggressor as she is a victim, telling her elder cohort investigator/boyfriend Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) to keep his hand under her shirt, coldly demanding affection like Garbo in Ninotchka. The ending also feels relaxed, Martin’s words ‘immigrant whore’ a slightly suitable alternative to the elongated caricature of the book and Oplev’s movie.
This refining of schlock reminds me of Miss Bala, a festival favourite, Oscar-shortlisted version of a drug cartel movie. Same thing with how my family would turn their nose up on jeep gangster movies while Brilliante Mendoza’s Kinatay, gets recognized as the gritty film-making for which Filipino film gets recognized. But whole ‘nother parameters, making me wonder what kind of room cinema has for the needlessly sadistic.
The second part of this conversation is bat shit, which is why I ask you if I should post it.