movie film review | chris tookey

Road To Perdition

20th Century Fox/ Dreamworks SKG - all rights reserved
  Road To Perdition Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
8.17 /10
Tom Hanks , Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Newman
Full Cast >

Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: David Self , from the novel by Max Allan Collins illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner

Released: 2002
Genre: DRAMA
Colour: C
Length: 117

Tom Hanks (pictured left) is on top form as Michael Sullivan, an Irish-American gangster who intimidates people for his boss and adoptive father, John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney's real son, Connor (Daniel Craig) resents his father's love of Michael. The less you know about the story that follows, the more you'll enjoy the movie. Suffice it to say that Michael soon has revenge on his mind, first against Connor and then against the father who allows Connor to operate unchallenged. Michael calls on a rival, an Italian-American gangster (Stanley Tucci), who works in Chicago for Al Capone (who has disappeared from the movie although scenes showing him played by Anthony LaPaglia were shot - oh well, maybe he'll be in the DVD version). The effect is that a hit-man (Jude Law) is employed to hunt down Michael and his 12 year-old son (Tyler Hoechlin, pictured right) before Michael's disaffection can disrupt the gangland status quo.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Sam Mendes's follow-up to his Oscar-winning debut, American Beauty, was praised by some as a masterpiece. I wouldn't disagree. Yet it was booed for two minutes at the Venice Film Festival, and was vehemently denounced by several leading critics. You may well ask "What's going on?" - and I imagine the makers of the film are asking themselves the same thing, although box office grosses of over 100 million dollars probably help alleviate their pain.

Road to Perdition is a gangster movie - the most stylish since Miller's Crossing, and far more gripping.

Even this film's worst enemies will have to admit that it is immaculately shot by veteran Conrad Hall (who won a posthumous Oscar), wonderfully edited by Jill Bilcock, and exquisitely designed by Dennis Gassner. Though based on a "graphic novel" - in other words, an upmarket cartoon - it is anything but a succession of static framings.

There are numerous sequences of extraordinary visual power, culminating in one of the most memorable shoot-out scenes in the history of cinema. Throughout, the film has a rare poetic quality, passing from a deeply textured, prosperous richness evocative of oil paintings by the Dutch masters, through to the high-contrast clarity of the great American gangster films of the 1930s. The visuals rise way above the comic book.

The performances, too, are excellent. Three supporting roles may well come in for recognition next March. Jude Law, moving decisively away from his pretty-boy image, is seriously scary as a killer who takes a perverted thrill from his crimes.

Another Brit, Daniel Craig, is marvellously dangerous as Hank's deadliest rival. And Paul Newman has never been better than as a sprightlier, more charming but equally deadly answer to Don Corleone in The Godfather.

So why does this movie upset a vociferous minority? There are those who accuse it of being amoral. I disagree. Hanks boldly takes on the central role of a man who knows he has done wrong, and is consequently on the road to perdition, or Hell. Scenes of him confessing his crimes to a priest have been removed, but the reason is obvious: Hanks's mesmerising performance renders them unnecessary.

You can see the guilt on his thin-lipped, fleshy face, along with a determination that his son and namesake should not travel the same path as he has. This alone would make him different from Newman's character, whose fatal flaw is that he is resigned to there being even fewer vestiges of morality in his son than there have been in him.

Michael Sullivan is - like Clint Eastwood's William Munny in Unforgiven - bent on revenge. He's willing to use his 12 year-old son, whom he trains up to be a getaway driver (in scenes that evoke Paper Moon, and offer the film's few moments of light relief). He even hands the boy a gun, although he hopes he will never have to use it.

Michael Sullivan is not a good man, as his son is reminded whenever he leafs through his favourite book, which is about the Lone Ranger and draws a comfortingly sharp distinction between goodies and baddies.

The son doesn't dare to confront his father over his way of life, and you can see why. Sullivan starts off as a cold, distant father, and turns into a bitter, implacably ferocious one. His son loves him, but also fears him.

The real reason the film was booed in Venice is, I suspect, political. For years, Tom Hanks has played icons of American decency and idealism. In many people's eyes, he represents the USA. Here, he represents a vengeful America, bent on punishing those who murder its citizens.

The parallels between Sullivan's vengefulness on behalf of his family and President Bush's stance on terrorism and rogue states are there for all to see. They may be frightening to some, especially terrorists and their liberal apologists; but, like many iconic characters of cinema, Michael Sullivan represents the spirit of our time.

There are those who accuse the film of superficiality. It is, after all, based upon a cartoon. But that's a superficial judgment. What Sam Mendes has done brilliantly, with the help of screenwriter David Self and his panoply of star actors, is to deepen the characters' emotions while retaining the clarity of a simple plot.

At the centre of the film is a profound appreciation of that primal urge fatherhood, and the desire of fathers to live on through their male heirs. There are four father-son relationships within the movie, and each is cleverly used to illuminate another.

The plot has its share of implausibilities - would, for example, an experienced hitman such as Sullivan really fail to finish off Jude Law's character when he has the chance? And where are the police and Federal agents when all the bloodshed is going on?

But such considerations scarcely matter, for this film has the power of a modern myth, and the inexorability of Greek tragedy, though one in which the sins of the fathers need not necessarily be visited upon their sons.

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