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Roger Deakins: A Short Retrospective
By David Kirkeby
Feb 21, 2009, 19:25 PST



On January 7, 2009 the American Society of Cinematographers announced their nominations for the year’s best cinematography. Roger Deakins was once again nominated in the feature film category. You could say Deakins is on a roll of sorts. He received not only one, but two nominations for Revolutionary Road, and The Reader. This is made even more impressive by the fact that he did the same last year. Last year Deakins became the first cinematographer to ever be nominated twice in the feature film category in one year. His nominations were for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men respectively.

Since 1994 Deakins has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, but as yet he has never won one. Two of his films, A Beautiful Mind and No Country For Old Men have gone on to win the “Best Picture” Oscar. He was first nominated for The Shawshank Redemption, but that film lost the award to Legends of the Fall. If this information points to one thing it is that Deakins has consistently created great pieces of cinema.

If all of this wasn’t enough, his work ethic is amazing! In the past two years Roger Deakins has acted as cinematographer on six different releases, as well as participating as a visual consultant on Pixar’s Wall-E. I’m not saying that Deakins should win the Academy Award this year, Wally Pfister’s Dark Knight is definitely worthy competition, but I do think that as the New Year dawns this is the perfect time to look back on a career that has offered incredible pieces of filmmaking.

Roger Deakins is best known for a working relationship that began in 1991 with the Coen brothers. This collaboration has produced nine different and oft-times amazing films. Some are classics, such as Fargo, others are not, like The Ladykillers, while others still, notably O Brother, Where Art Thou, helped establish a new standard in cinematic technique. Over time the style of these collaborators has come to define one another.

Due to a scheduling conflict lasts year, the Coen brothers used a different cinematographer for the first time since their collaboration with Deakins began. There is no doubt that Deakins left big shoes to fill. It is only fitting then that their relationship reached a climax last year when No Country for Old Men won the best picture Academy Award.

It is interesting to note that some of Deakins’ most interesting work was not done with the Coens, but instead came about when Deakins was forced to fill the shoes of another great cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall. Hall shot Sam Mendes’ first two films and received Oscars for both movies. Only after Hall’s death did in 2003 did Sam Mendes use a different director of photography. Mendes first collaborated with Deakins on Jarhead. The movie did not receive much attention at the various awards ceremonies, but the film had something very special. It might be tempting to re-watch The Shawshank Redemption for the twentieth time, but instead I would recommend checking out this underrated film about the Gulf War. Deakins’ handheld approach seems pitch perfect in its representation of reality. Deakins’ background in documentary enabled him to create a well-rounded picture of the war.

Deakins went on to work with another recent Academy Award-winning director in 2007, when he worked with Paul Haggis on In the Valley of Elah. Unfortunately the film was released in a year when films about the Iraq War had already saturated the marketplace. The film only made about 6.7 million dollars domestically. Financially the film was a failure, but artistically the movie was one of the more interesting examinations of the effects of the war. Unlike most modern war movies In the Valley of Elah focused on the family of the soldier instead of the soldier himself. Together Deakins and Haggis painted a landscape bleaker than most battlefields.

Throughout Roger Deakin’s long career, he has worked with some of the world’s most famous directors including: Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard. In the coming year we will see Deakins and the Coen brothers reunited as they work on a film currently titled A Serious Man. This film will return them to an exploration of the dark comedy genre; however, we can expect the filmmakers to explore new territory, as always. If one thing is clear from Deakins’ past it is that it promises an equally interesting future.






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