The Road To Perdition
The Road To Perdition has been described as a Greek tragedy. Based on a violent graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, the transition to big screen was never going to be easy. However, director Sam Mendes, the man behind American Beauty has shown that he can direct and direct well.
Set in 1931, Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a family man with a wife, Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two young boys, Peter (Liam Aiken) and Michael (Tyler Hoechlin). Michael Senior is a devoted husband and provides for his family well. Unbeknown to his boys, he’s also known as The Angel of Death and an enforcer for the Chicago Mob.
Michael works for John Rooney (an absolutely superb Paul Newman), who he sees more as a father than a boss, due to him taking Michael in when he was young. In return John treats Michael as a son, as his real son Conner (Daniel Craig) is an embarrassment and a loser. The two men share a special bond and relationship that Conner is extremely jealous off.
One day, perplex by trying to work out what exactly their father does for Mr Rooney, Michael Junior decides to hide in his fathers’ car and follow him one evening. Unfortunately he witnesses the assassination of a rival mobster by Conner and his father. Shocked and shaken, he promises his father that he will not reveal anything, which is good enough for his father.
Conner is unfortunately not convinced and fearing that the boy will talk, goes to Michael’s home and attempts to wipe out the Sullivan family. He kills Annie and Peter but Michael manages to survive.
So father and son flee and go on the run. John, however, is torn between his loyalty towards the man who he sees as a son (and whom he wishes was his son) and his disgracing real son, Conner. He realises that he cannot act against Michael directly so unwillingly turns to mob enforcer Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci) to deal with the pair. The decision weighs heavily on John, but he must be seen to stand with his son no matter how much he dislikes the idea of harming Michael. It seems blood is thicker than water.
Nitti hires a psychotic hit man, Maguire (Jude Law) who relishes in his work and his ‘hobby’ of photographing the bodies of the people he’s killed.
Michael must now protect his son and more importantly for him, protect his son from becoming like him, which could be the harder of the two tasks.
The Road To Perdition is a powerful film. It has a fantastic visual impact, with rain soaked shots to long sweeping farm landscapes courtesy of cinematographer Conrad Hall. A stand out scene is one of a near-silent slow-motion gunfight in the pouring rain, illuminated by muzzle flashes, and with the main camera focus on a stationary character left standing in the bloodshed.
The film has a doomed over tone that hangs above it throughout, with brief glimpses of what could have been happier times between father and son interspersed. Not just the relationship between Michael and his son, but the relationship between John and Michael. This is the key to the whole film. There is a slight dip in the pace of the film when father and son go on the run but apart from that its fine.
If weaker actors had been cast then the emotion, and motivation, behind the characters might have been lost. Tom Hanks, although playing a hit man, doesn’t quite come across as a ruthless enforcer due to his relationship towards his son being in the focus more. Although this will be touted as a Tom Hanks film, two other members of the cast overshadow him. Jude Law sheds his pretty boy image considerably to play Maguire, the hit man who enjoys his work a little too much, but the standout performance is definitely Paul Newman.
Paul Newman is superb and shows why he is still considered a Hollywood heavyweight. His steel-blue eyes convey more expression than any dialogue could, and he suits the part to a tee. His is a powerful performance, as he struggles between doing what is right and doing what is expected. Topping it is the dialogue that he literally growls, with lines like “There are only murderers in this room, Michael. Open your eyes. This is the life we chose. The life we lead. And there is only one guarantee – none of us will see Heaven”. Truly a man who’s resigned to his fate and has no illusions of what he’s done in his life.
The Road To Perdition shows what a good film needs; actors who can act and directors who are not willing to slap something together for a quick summer blockbuster. It’s a stark contrast to many of the CGI special effects laden, Hollywood junk that is produced and it shows. Even though it is a cold film, it has one of the key aspects to a good film – it has you thinking about it for a few days afterwards.
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