Monday, August 6, 2007

Road to Perdition (Mendes, 2002)

With his stunning debut American Beauty, Sam Mendes burst onto the Hollywood scene much to the surprise of many and proved that he was a fresh new talent with a bright future ahead of him. With his second film Road to Perdition he proves that his over-night sensation was no fluke. Here we have a director who embraces the craft of story-telling with a striking visual palette. Even though his depression-era gangster film treads familiar ground, his creative sensabilities as a story-teller come across with striking veracity. As a quiet film that takes it's time to establish the characters, the narrative hurls along at a steady pace and remains fascinating throughout.

Much of Sam Mendes' sophmore effort owes much of its success to the fabulous score by Thomas Newman which swells and chimes with such passionate grace and of course, the awe-inspiring cinematography by the late Conrad L. Hall.

Brilliantly composed without becoming too overbearing, this is one of those memorable scores that perfectly compliments the story-action by adding another layer of poeticism. Mendes does a commendable job of not falling prviy to over-dramatization by using the score in a bombastic fashion. Instead, he finds the right balance of subtlety and uses Newman's beautiful music to set the tone of the scenes.

Road to Perdition is also cinematographer's wet dream. This was the last film Conrad Hall worked on before passing away and it safe to say he went out in a blaze of glory. The use of dark lighting is mighty impressive along with the entire look of the film which is highlighted mostly in shadows. Many scenes take place in heavy rain-fall where Mendes and Hall are able to frame some of he most visually stunning sequences in recent memory. The final show down near the end of the film that takes place in a serious down-pour is destined to become one of those iconic scenes that filmgoers will admire for years to come. The way Mendes meticulously structures the unfolding of the climactic gun-battle along with Hall's keen eye for establishing atmosphere is so beautiful executed that mere description cannot do it justice.

As visually stunning as Road to Perdition is, the wonderfully told story of revenge and the love between father and son don't get lost amidst all of the vivid imagery. The film does contain plenty of stylized violence but it doesn't take center stage. The heart of the story is between the relationship between a professional hit-man named Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and his son Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin). The supoorting cast are also superb including the always magnificent Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Jennfier Jason Leigh and Dylan Baker. Most surprising to me was the talent of the young actor Tyler Hoechlin who is able to convey a wide range of emotions and actually brings a level of depth to his character without falling into the stereotypical role of the obnoxious older son vying for the father's love.

Standing out from the pack of countless gangster films because of the emphasis on an actual story and not just the body count, Road to Perdition is able to achieve a level of greatness that few within the genre are able to reach. It accepts the violent nature of the ganster picture without sacrificing narrative and thus, remains thoroughly entertaining along with being quite moving. This is just remarkable filmmaking of the highest order.



WatchingStar said...

I can't believe I'm admitting this, but this flick did more for me than The Godfather.

Jason said...

I don't really see how both films are related other than being about organized crime but can understand that statement because Road to Perdition is a cinematic tour-de-force. I think with another viewing I may in fact bump up my rating to masterpiece status -- it's just that good.

Pablo said...

Extraordinaria película. Si señor, y un gran broche de oro a la carrera cinematográfica de ese coloso del cine mundial llamado : Paul Newman.