Wednesday, June 17, 2009
There was a time when Sam Mendes seemed like he was at the vanguard of young directors. His first film, American Beauty (1999), struck a very resonant fin de siècle chord at the time of its release. But with subsequent releases like Jarhead (2005), Revolutionary Road (2008), and as some early reviews indicate, Away We Go (2009), it has become apparent that while Mendes has a nose for talent, he doesn't seem to have much to say. This strangely superficial quality that he disguises fairly well in his selection of material to bring to the screen doesn't seem to affect his second film (perhaps because it is the only genre piece in his oeuvre), Road to Perdition. Maybe its because the film, based on a graphic novel, treads some familiar ground. The neo-noir follows some well-established gangster drama tropes, like "blood is thicker than water", "it's only business", and "honor amongst thieves." Fusing these cliches to a family psychodrama contrasting the relationship between button man Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and his eponymous son (Tyler Hoechlin), to the one between his surrogate father, mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman, in his last onscreen film performance) and his envious son, Connor (Daniel Craig), may freshen up the proceedings somewhat. However, thanks to the film's powerful performances, a moving score by Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption), and the gorgeous cinematography, the movie still holds up in a way that most of Mendes later work doesn't. Here, I've chosen to focus on the wonderful imagery by the late, great Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). This was his last film, and won him the last of three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography. And for my money, this poetic film succeeds mostly on the basis of its beautiful and evocative images. This post was first published at Film for the Soul for its continuing series on the best movies of the 2000s, Counting Down the Zeroes, on 6/15/09.