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Why Roger Deakins is the secret genius of Blade Runner 2049

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If you’ve never heard of Roger Deakins before, here’s the skinny: he’s one of the best cinematographers working in film today.

He began his career in 1983 and has since gone on to lens some of the great cinema works of the modern era, from Sid and Nancy (1986), Fargo (1996), A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Skyfall (2012) to name just a few in his mesmeric and impeccable body of work.

He's also the man behind this October's visually mind-blowing sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.

Deakins reunites with Sicario filmmaker Denis Villeneuve to transport us into a darkly engrossing future world, one rendered as a big screen work of art.

It’s hard to pick single shots from the list of films he has been involved with so we’ve gathered a few that will get you ready for his extraordinary work on Blade Runner...

Sicario

While he first worked with Denis Villeneuve on 2013’s Prisoners, Deakins followed it up in 2015 with the breathtaking Sicario, an action thriller that was both shocking and visually arresting in equal measure.

From the opening act, basking in the scorching heat of the desert to the frenetic, unpredictable events of the traffic-jam shootout and the eagle-eye views of the surroundings that ensconce Emily Blunt’s stunning turn as Kate Macy, the film looks and feels gritty and grounded.

But it’s the nighttime covert operation undertaken by Macy and a group of soldiers that shows Deakins at his most superb as he captures the dawning of a new day outside before adapting night-vision techniques to blistering, shuddering effect.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, the film tells of the friendship between Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) and Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and the journey they take before the titular killing takes place.

Taking its cues from Westerns of the classic era, as well as later offerings like Unforgiven and Heaven’s Gate, the richness of detail on show through some wonderful and precise production design is brought to life with vivid crispness by Deakins.

But for true Deakins genius, look no further than the night-time robbery scene. James and his gang wait in the woodland in pitch black before the lights of the approaching train pierce the darkness and illuminate the trees around them before James steps out as the train comes to a halt and is bathed in the smoke of the brakes.


No Country for Old Men

Deakins has been prolific with Ethan and Joel Coen over the years, making 12 films with them so far including Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? But it was his work on 2007’s No Country For Old Men that is perhaps their finest collaboration, with the film winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director(s).

There’s plenty to feast your eyes on throughout this superb movie, but perhaps the most iconic sequence in the film takes place in a motel room as Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff hunts Javier Bardem’s psychopath Anton Chigurh, himself hunting millions taken by Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss.

Tracking Chigurh down to said seedy motel, the action switches between Jones’s Ed Tom Bell as he slowly and nervously approaches a room door, and Chigurh hiding behind one after a shootout has taken place with a small beam of light showing half his face and his weapon.

To us, it seems Bell is in the wrong place at the wrong time – he draws his gun and pushes the door open to find an empty room, with car headlights illuminating his silhouette on the room wall as he begins to wonder where his prey has flown off too.


The Shawshank Redemption

A financial flop when it was first released in 1994, despite critical raves, Shawshank found a second life on VHS, television and subsequent home entertainment releases.

Still, we are all thankful that one of cinema's all-time classics offers another prime example of Deakins’ genius. Two moments stand out, both within the space of a few tense moments in the film’s final act, as our hero, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) finds his way out of Shawshank Prison.

Revealing an escape tunnel hidden behind a poster of Raquel Welch, Deakins pulls the camera back through the long hole to showcase the extent of what Andy has achieved as Morgan Freeman’s Red looks through astonished.

We then see how it came about. Trundling and crawling through the sewers, Andy emerges outside the prison as the rain pelts down, throwing his arms up triumphantly upon his escape for one of the most iconic moments in modern cinema, with Deakins the supreme architect.


Skyfall

Of course, we had to include Deakins’ only foray into the realm of 007 thus far, but judging by how beautiful the film looks we hope he gets to revisit it someday soon.

One of the best Bond films of all time, there are many amazing sequences captured by Deakins, but best of all is Bond’s fight scene high up in a Japanese tower block as he chases an assassin he almost died trying to catch.

The neon-drenched skylines of the city are piercing through the windows, enveloping both men as Bond silently approaches. As the lights move, both become invisible to the other before they scrap it out as a bold, blue jellyfish advertisement moves behind them.

Once it vanishes, the men finish their fight as beautiful silhouettes before Bond’s assailant plummets to his death. Beautifully shot and choreographed, it’s perhaps the most elegant sequence ever to grace a Bond film. Bond 25 has some work to do.

We’ll be honest: to pick just these five films has been a huge task such is the superb body of work of Roger Deakins.

Blade Runner 2049 is just another in a long line of remarkable projects but the question remains: will Denis Villeneuve’s film finally earn Deakins that long-overdue Oscar? Judge for yourselves when the movie arrives on 5th October.

Scott J. Davis is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.


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