Jul 11, 2012

Road to Perdition's Best (Gun)Shot

*This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit Me with YourBest Shot series and contains GRAPHIC IMAGES.

I’ve always thought Sam Mendes’ second feature doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. There is so much to admire, from performances that transcend the characters they inhabit to a story that, while never fully exploring its potential, manages to dig deeper than the machinations of the crimes at its centre. But among all the film’s powers, legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning work takes the cake. 

Choosing a favourite shot from such an abundance of options isn’t easy. Hall’s somberly lit atmosphere captures the era beautifully. His lens gives a poetic quality, however colourless, to the violence. It’s the type of cinematography that attracts attention to itself, but when it seems so fitting, so elegant, it isn’t something to complain about. 

As is often the case when I participate in this series, my favourite shot in the film is one that’s been etched in my memory from previous screenings. It’s from an early sequence in the film. Michael Sullivan Jr. has hidden in his father’s car to ride with him and Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) to a meeting. As his father (Tom Hanks) and Connor confront their associate Finn McGovern (Ciaran Hinds) things get out of hand, Connor shoots Finn and Sullivan Sr. is forced to gun down his guards. Michael witnesses the proceedings through a hole in the wall. 

The scene, which is significant in the narrative since it really sets the story off, is shot through the hole with reverse shots of Michael peeking in.
It’s an intense way to introduce Michael to the brutal world his father lives in and it’s framed perfectly. What makes this sequence most striking is the way it draws inspiration both from the graphic novel of the source material and gangster films of the pre-code era. The chiaroscuro effect of the illustrations is achieved through the hard lighting and slow motion, and the shot-reverse-shot structure creates a similar dynamic. Vicious as the scene may be, one can't help but pause and admire the beauty of Hall’s work. 


  1. AHA!

    I just felt that someone would look at this scene, and I'm glad I was right because it immediately made me think of a best shot in another HIT ME entry (Jose on PSYCHO

    Of course ROAD TO PERDITION doesn't quite depend on the watching in the same way as PSYCHO but this "watching" scene does catapult the film in a whole new direction just as the one in PSYCHO.

    It occurred to me at the time,

  2. I think it might be the best "complete" scene in the movie and I almost chose it. I don't agree that the cinematography which draws attention to itself so elegantly is never a problem. I have such mixed feelings about this movie but i did really enjoy watching it again.

  3. This is, I think, the third time this season that I've picked the same shot as somebody else, and I really love to see what different things people latch onto when there's a doubling-up like that. In this case, I love that you really dig into how specifically it plays out this exact moment, where I was more interested in how as an abstract graphic it suggests "bad things coming". It is such a fantastic scene, isn't it? I feel like there's almost a Spielberg influence in the way that POV and shot/reverse shot play together.

  4. Andrew - Jose's post is one of my favourite entries in the series.

    Nathaniel - I agree with you but for some reason, it doesn't bother me in this film as much as it does elsewhere. Maybe it's the sentimental value of knowing it's Hall's last work?

    Tim - Agreed. It's always fun to read different perspectives on the same shot.