Reviewed Five Ways: Road to Perdition

The folks are in town, and as they live in the humming metropolis of Merritt, BC, they’ve yet to see Road to PerditionHere it is, reviewed five ways:

  1. If he wants to be, Sam Mendes can be his generation’s Steven Spielberg. The mastery of cinematic storytelling, singleness of purpose and sentimentality that he displays with Road to Perdition make him the heir-apparent.
  2. Before directing American BeautySam Mendes was the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse Theatre in London. His sense of theatricality was apparent throughout Road to Perdition. He constantly frames shots with windows (both car and house), cracks in the walls, doorways, even the horizon line of the ocean (inspired by, I think, to the splendid photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto). It’s like he’s constantly searching for the procenium arch. Additionally, his scenes often begin and end in tableaus. If you think back to the most memorable moments in his movies, they are still (with the exception, perhaps, of the plastic bag in American Beauty).
  3. My directing professor used to say that casting was 70% of a director’s work. If you get it right, you’ve got it made. Get it wrong, and you’ve dug yourself a big hole. Sam Mendes must have traded on his reputation or called a few friends, because every roll is brilliantly filled by a first-rate actor in Road to Perdition. You could count on one hand the number of scenes Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Jason Leigh are in, but you can’t take your eyes off them when they’re on screen.
  4. I’m always wary of narration in a film. Generally there’s too much of it, or it’s been applied afterwards to paper over plot holes, or is there to insult the audience’s intelligence. Both American Beauty and Road to Perdition use it sparingly, but too good effect. In the case of the latter, it serves the additional purpose (and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here), of, in the opening moments, subconsciously reassuring us of a portion of the film’s outcome.
  5. I’ll probably watch Road to Perdition again, focussing on the use of light and glass throughout the film. Predictably, the film is lit very theatrically, with scenes appearing under or over-exposed. Furthermore, director Sam Mendes builds an apparently complex image system out of windows, glasses, cameras and water. I’m not sure how it all hangs together yet, but it reminded me of Ondaatje’s obsession with photography and the captured image. His first book begins:

    I send you a picture of Billy made with the Perry shutter as quick as it can be worked…

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