Road to Perdition (2002)

Conrad Hall’s cinematography…jaw-dropping. The precision in the images and visual story is intoxicating. This is celluloid as ash, the grain glazing everything over in a frosty, funeral-like haze. It’s moody and painterly. A gangster B-pic as seen by Edward Hopper. I could watch this film on a loop just for the images, but I don’t need to because my memory of them never fades. Wow.

Anyway, as far as stories about fathers and sons go this one aint bad. I especially like Hanks’ against-type casting. It is one of the few times he’s tried to debase his persona by playing a cold asshole and he mostly manages it. It doesn’t go all the way of-course, because, as the clunky voice-over tells us immediately, he’s a good man at heart. Paul Newman on the other hand, here appearing in his final big screen role, is sublime. That final scene of his in the rain – the film’s visual splendor reaching its zenith – what a curtain call! Whenever his character is off-screen for long stretches the film does falter and fizzle out. But there’s enough going on to keep it afloat.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jude Law, a matinee idol really getting his hands dirty as a character actor, smearing his good looks into something grotesque. The blading pate, bad teeth and long nails are all good in theory but in totality he ends up coming across a bit too much like a comic-book villain – he’s a rat basically (and no, the fact this was based on a graphic novel isn’t lost on me, but Mendes tunes everything else into lofty cinema-as-opera stylisation whereas Law, in contrast, is effectively operating in the gutter of genre).

Mendes and his technicians really do get so much right here. Every scene has an aesthetic point of view and stylistic conceit. It all cuts together like butter with heavily expressive sound design. It is the epitome of smooth, classy, prestige showboating. Mute this movie though and you could put it in a goddamn museum. Conrad Hall left us with some of his finest work.

Watched on blu-ray.

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