The Use of Imagery in Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition
Road to Perdition is a 2002 American crime drama film directed by Sam Mendes, written by Max Allan Collins and David Hendrie, and based on the graphic novel of the same name by Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. The film stars Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig. Michael Sullivan (Hanks) is a hit-man in the 1930s gangsters' clan led by John Rooney (Newman). After Sullivan's wife and youngest son are killed by Rooney's treacherous right-hand man Connor (Craig), he and his surviving son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) seek revenge against the criminals.
While Road to Perdition is classified as a gangster film, it also has many elements of a film noir, coming-of-age story, and family drama. One of the things that makes the film unique is its use of imagery. In this essay, I will analyze the use of light and darkness, color, and sound in Road to Perdition.
2. The Use of Light and Darkness
The use of light and darkness is one of the most striking aspects of Mendes's direction in Road to Perdition. He uses light in a very deliberate way to create an atmosphere of menace, tension, and foreboding. For example, in the scene where Michael Sullivan Sr. goes to meet with John Rooney for the first time, Mendes uses a low key lighting setup with very little illumination on the faces of the characters. This creates a sense of unease and danger, which is fitting given that Sullivan is about to enter into negotiations with a powerful crime boss.
Mendes also uses darkness to great effect in certain scenes. One particularly memorable example is the scene where Michael Jr. is hiding under a bed while his father kills several men in the next room. The only light in the scene comes from a lamp in the hallway outside the bedroom door. This creates an incredibly tense and suspenseful atmosphere, as we can only see Michael Jr.’s face partially lit up by the lamp as he silently watches his father commit murder.
3. The Use of Color
Mendes makes great use of color in Road to Perdition as well. He often uses muted colors to create a feeling of melancholy and despair, which fits with the film’s themes of loss and betrayal. For instance, in the scene where Michael Sullivan Sr. learns that his wife and youngest son have been killed, Mendes uses a blue filter over the entire scene. This gives everything a cold and lifeless feel, which mirrors Sullivan’s emotional state at that moment.
Mendes also employs color to contrast different characters and their respective emotional states. For example, in the scene where Connor shows up at Michael Sullivan Sr.’s house to kill him, Connor is dressed all in white while Sullivan is dressed in black. This stark contrast serves to highlight Connor’s psychopathic nature compared to Sullivan’s more humane personality.
4. The Use of Sound
The use of sound is another area where Mendes excels in Road to Perdition. He often uses diegetic sound (sound that comes from within the world of the film) to create a sense of unease and foreboding. For instance, in the scene where Sullivan is meeting with Rooney for the first time, we can hear the sound of a train whistling in the distance. This adds to the feeling of danger and impending violence that Mendes is trying to create.
Mendes also makes great use of silence in certain scenes. One particularly effective example is the scene where Michael Jr. is hiding under the bed while his father kills several men in the next room. The only sound we can hear is Michael Jr.’s breathing, which amplifies the suspense and tension of the moment.
In conclusion, Sam Mendes’ use of imagery in Road to Perdition is masterful. He deftly uses light and darkness, color, and sound to create a unique and unforgettable cinematic experience.