In Road to Perdition, director Sam Mendes uses simple camera movement and a rack focus to capture one of the film’s key moments.
Revisiting Road to Perdition ►► http://bit.ly/rtp-sm
0:37 Road to Perdition Story
2:26 Scene Exercise — Rack Focus
3:44 How Conner is Presented
4:44 Floorplan & Recap
Road to Perdition is an underrated gangster film from director Sam Mendes. The film is shot with gorgeous and stunning cinematography from the late great Conrad L. Hall. But there is one shot in particular that packs a punch. In this video essay, we’re going to look at how a single shot can light the spark for the entire film.
Road to Perdition is about an Irish mob family in the Midwest led by John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney’s right-hand man is Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), which makes Rooney’s son, Connor (Daniel Craig), boil under his skin. This jealousy reaches a tipping point at the end of Act One — which is where we’ll focus our film analysis.
Connor has just been scolded by Rooney in front of the organization’s leadership. And as Rooney leaves the table, his arm around Sullivan, Connor finally cracks. The camera slowly pushes toward Connor in shallow focus, which at this point is nothing special. But the then shallow depth of field leaves Connor and follows Rooney and Sullivan behind him, leaving Connor in the frame but out of focus.
Then, just as Rooney and Sullivan exit the frame, we get a rack focus back to Connor in close-up. His cold and chillingly empty eyes tell us everything. Connor has reached his breaking point and he has been ignored for the last time.
This is how Sam Mendes and Conrad L. Hall have shown us Connor twice before — out of focus, ignored, passed over. So, it’s not just a one-off technique...suddenly, this is much more...a motif! With such a simple moment, Sam Mendes gives an elegant lesson in visual storytelling. Instead of cutting between multiple shots, we get one smooth and slow movement forward and a rack focus that puts us into Connor’s head. This is just one shot from Road to Perdition but it just might be the most important shot in the entire film.
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