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)
Mixing golden age filmmaking techniques and new Hollywood’s colourful realism, The Sting is more form conscious than director George Roy Hill’s earlier films. Meaning that this film also has enough wipes and page wipes for ten Kurosawa films. Both wipe montage overloads portray Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) getting makeovers and a new apartment. The latter montage also depicts Hooker’s new partner Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) gathering people for a con. Each of these people are like chapters in a book that we skip to see the exciting part of them performing their sleight of hand. Their mark is a gangster named Doyle Lonegan (Robert Shaw). These montages are accompanied by a ragtime score, the conflicts given a lighter mood.
There’s also a lot of running in this movie, mostly from Johnny’s part, having to leave Joliet, Illinois for Chicago to avenge the death of his former partner. He’s being chased by authorities and hitmen who have been on him since he has moved. There are guns involved and the clicking sound of Johnny’s shoes eerily makes the audience a little afraid for him. The camera follows Johnny enough for us to see Redford’s athleticism. There are also quick zoom outs from the gunmen, whether they’re on top of a subway platform or within hallways or back alleys behind a diner. Even if they’re looming they can never catch up to Johnny.
I started to understand why this won over Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers for Best Picture in 1973. There’s little quips from Johnny’s girlfriend, blaming her wasted training on her orchestra instead of her trip numbers. That could be overread as a satire on class boundaries in Depression-era America, but we can accept it as an incidental humour that’s as real because it’s delivered in little strokes. It’s a very masculine film, honestly portraying man in its different stages, from Lonegan’s bravado at the poker table to Gondorff wasting away before he and Johnny can get their acts together. There are red herrings before the winners bring out their Hollywood smiles, and most of us won’t have it any other way.
You can’t really tell whose vehicle this is – whether it is Sidney Lumet’s urban theatre about power struggle and the defense for what is right, or if it’s David Mamet’s, again, theatre where the world crowds and burdens our idealistic protagonist looking for redemption. It’s both. I’m more familiar with Lumet’s work. The other film I’ve seen of Mamet is “Redbelt.” I’ve read “Glengarry GlenRoss” the play and for some reason only have a vague recollection of it. Either way this seems like a slow marinade compared to their other work. It’s after fifty minutes later when Frank Galvin’s (Paul Newman) client’s brother-in-law confronts him which gets us at the edge of our seat.
It’s also unlike their work where in this movie, we get a lot of short scenes instead of a few big acts. The drama gets built up as we see both Galvin’s side and the archdiocese’s camp strategize, both teams stoic but they show a few breaks of sweat now and then. Speaking of stoic, Paul Newman’s looking the same but with gray hair. His performance is a bit quieter here than his showy roles fifteen years earlier. He doesn’t do any yelling even in his last speech. It’s this subtlety that would mark his better roles after this one.
I’ve joked in private that David Mamet couldn’t write women. This movie, however, gives us Laura Fischer (Charlotte Rampling), a strong female who’s also afraid of her tough persona. There’s Sally Doneghy, still feeling the pull and tug between her husband and vegetable sister. Finally, there’s Kailtin Costello Price, the nurse whose less than five-minute appearance makes us feel as if we’ve known her life story. This is one of the incidents where I couldn’t have been more glad to be wrong.
Lastly, this paragraph isn’t necessarily a spoiler as much as it is an advice to douchebag judges and lawyers. How did Frank and the Plaintiff win? Sandbag the little guy once, shame on you. Sandbag them twice and they jury will see what’s going on.