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ROAD TO PERDITION

Circa 1931
The ensemble of talent in front of the camera was matched by the award-winning creative team assembled to work behind the camera, beginning with the man Sam Mendes calls "my central working relationship," cinematographer Conrad Hall, who also lensed "American Beauty" for the director. "I can't even describe how attached I've become to him and how immensely grateful I am to him," Mendes continues. "In the midst of the chaos and the siege mentality that happens on a movie set, when Conrad puts his eye to the eyepiece of the camera, magic begins to happen. If you ask him how he knows where to point the camera, he'll tell you, ‘I point it at the story,' but it's more than that: his artistry with light adds a dimension to the story that you could not have imagined. There is no such thing as an unimportant shot for him, and so he can drive you mad spending longer than you ever expected to light. But when you're in the screening room, you thank God every day for Conrad Hall."

Collaborating for the first time with the director were production designer Dennis Gassner, costume designer Albert Wolsky, and editor Jill Bilcock. "These are all very special people—incredibly gifted and at the top of their profession," Mendes says. "It was like having an entire engine room of ideas and creative energy behind me."

"Road to Perdition" is set in 1931 when the country was in the grip of the Great Depression, prohibition was still the law of the land, and gangsters like Al Capone were at the height of their power. Long before the cameras rolled, research was the order of the day for everyone involved in the production. "The challenges of a period movie are obvious," Mendes comments. "Everything must be discussed in detail before you begin, because everything has to be made or re-created. It was also important to me that the movie pay witness to the time, rather than announce it. I wanted the audience to feel that they were looking through a window into this world, and I wanted to put a lie to some of the perceived notions about gangsters. You will see no double-breasted pin-stripe suits, no spats, and only one machine gun, and that has a very specific and unusual presence in the movie."

In at least one instance, the research resulted in a major thematic element of the movie. Mendes reveals, "In planning the wake held at the beginning of the movie, we discovered they sometimes kept corpses on ice to stop the body from decomposing, and as the ice melts, the water would drip into buckets. The linking of water with death then became a recurring image in the film. It speaks of the mutability of water and links it to the uncontrollability of fate. These are things that humans can't control. In other words, the dam might burst at any moment. All that came out of a tiny piece of research."

Research was especially important for the movie's design teams. Costume designer Albert Wolsky soon learned that re-creating the wardrobe of the times was made all the more challenging by the fact that its chief distinction was its lack of distinction. "It's not the hotsy totsy of the roaring ‘20s and it's not the very slinky style of the mid-to-late ‘30s. It's a very difficult period; it slips away from you in seconds," he remarks.

As part of his research, Wolsky set out to find real clothing of the period, which was in itself problematic. He and his team looked throughout the United States and even Europe, but found that very little remained of the actual clothing. "It was the Depression; nobody kept those clothes," Wolsky explains. "There

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