First off, the pitch: if you aren’t playing along with Hit Me with Your Best Shot at The Film Experience (a rhetorical flourish; given that only some half-dozen bloggers in various permutations have contributed to the last three entries, I am well aware that you aren’t), you’re missing out. It is one of the most consistently fun things I’ve done all summer as a blogger. It encourages one to watch new movies or revisit old flings with an eye to thinking about how they work as visual art; when it works well, it means you are part of a dialogue involving several other film writers you might not otherwise have had contact with; it (and this is maybe the best part) is an easy way to come up with content, because what blog-runner hasn’t had a day where coming up with an idea for a post was the very hardest part?
The point being: the series is potentially on its last legs: Nathaniel R is currently looking to set an end-date for this season, and it depends on how much activity there is for the next couple of weeks; meanwhile, the very existence of a season 4 is entirely dependent upon how many people join in between now and whatever August Wednesday is the finale. So come on! If you have a blog and like pretty pictures of movies, you should take part! It is fun, it is easy, and it means I get to do it again next year if we can keep it alive this year. So do it for me.
Anyway, this week, Nathaniel has played a mean trick on we who participate, by selecting Road to Perdition as our movie from which we can select a favorite shot; that same Road to Perdition which was the final project of the the great Conrad L. Hall (who won his third Oscar for his work here) and which is one of the most top-to-bottom pretty movies of the last 25 years, a movie described by a cinematographer friend of mine as the most technically perfect work of cinematography of the 21st Century.
The mean trick is, how do you pick a single best shot? They’re all the best shot! You could pick a frame totally at random and trust that it’s probably stunning gorgeous and packed with thematic, narrative, or character information. I’ll prove it: here’s the shot I landed on when I blindly clicked in the middle of the timeline on my video player. It’s at 56:17.
I mean, right? That’s a fucking flawless shot, and it’s totally random, and I didn’t even get lucky. It’s a movie of shots just as magnificent as that one.
It was almost worth just going with that shot and being done with it, because holy God damn, is it ever pretty. But I decided to watch for something that did have some significant resonance, and I had a particular moment in mind, and here it is, my official though somewhat arbitrary pick for the movie’s best shot:
The whole movie is in there: we’re watching from the POV of Michael Sullivan, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), furtively getting a glimpse (from beneath a table, and I absolutely adore how Hall uses the filigree at the bottom of the table to create something akin to a silent-movie style iris) of something menacing and evil that he had been better off not seeing, involving his dad (Tom Hanks). I am happiest not digging into it very much, for story and characters are very much Road to Perdition‘s weak spot: like pretty much everything in director Sam Mendes’s career, what’s going on and to whom is far less compelling than the way it’s being communicated to us visually. And my word, is it ever being communicated well – the voyeuristic quality of the foreground table legs, and though you cannot see it, a jiggly, furtive shaking of the camera, keyed to little Michael’s ragged breathing; the brutally hard film noir key light that promises cruelty and things that are not okay; but unlike a proper noir, it’s not carried through, there’s a nostalgic poetry to the colors and focus that tie in to how the film renders its dark plot as fable rather than as nihilistic crime drama.
And, y’know, it’s crazy damn beautiful. But that goes without saying.