First Encounters: Hollywood Summer Art – Road to Perdition

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far, away….ok, not really. Sadly, it’s only been a decade, but in that bygone era Hollywood’s summer was not solely made up of superheros and billion dollar blockbuster fiascos. There was a time when the summer could include quiet films—more adult oriented, complex fair that dealt in narrative constructions far from the ever broadening critique of distraction. The minds behind these creations have had to go one of two directions (as addressed in the video conversation below): either to lower budget independent filmmaking or into the larger projects that live up to the spectacle but attempt to hinge the complication of what once was the midrange budget fair to the leaders of these war ships.

In 2002 Road to Perdition was released. The follow-up to American Beauty, Sam Mendes’ tale of fatherhood amidst depression era crime set about creating a landmark of cinema built upon solitude and the eloquence of detail. It has become something of a forgotten classic that is doubly important as a juggernaut of production’s lost time.

I bought the score weeks before and saw the film twice the same day when it was released. Few films have gathered my attention like that and the only other film I can recall seeing twice in the same weekend is Zodiac. In recollection it’s one of those projects that adhered to my formative years. I cannot help but always want to watch it again, a brief glimpse or listen pulling me back to thoughts and ideas, nostalgia brimming at the gills for all that has become and all that has been forgotten.

I love its pace, the interactions between the characters established on so much history and emotion; it allows them to take words and movements further than many would consider, cutting closer to the bone and manifesting a character piece with gangsterism as a mere backdrop rather than primary motivational tool. Much is said in small moments rather than large ones, and its stillness, much like one may remember of childhood in viewing one’s parents, brings it all home—the commitment to living in an age of hard times.

The greatest quality is its transcendence. In as much as the film is a historical drama, it’s done in a way to address current concerns, and beyond. The film is still about our time, still about our humanity, and in watching the narrative much can be gleaned about how to go about living in it.

As the aesthetic has become the age of grand agency and immense action one can forget that one survives by growing immune. In order to cope with the ever-evolving world surrounding us, we establish blinders and muffle our ears to the details that may otherwise drive us to the brink, forgetting that to experience something without extensive volume or fast cutting is of a quality that can center and instill a calm. That entertainment can be a pause and in that pause can be enlightenment.

For sure Road to Perdition is not the first film that qualifies under this writing’s heading, but it is one that forged my DNA. It is one I find immensely important for the decisions I make and the way I imagine I think about film. And while I could take this further and write something even more extensive, at this point I’ll end and leave you with a scene that provides a glimpse of the greatness in each frame.*

*If you decide to check it out, a viewing on blu-ray would be most ideal.

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