Road to Perdition

Rated: R
Stars:   Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci
Director:   Sam Mendes
Writer:   David Self, from a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins

Beautifully photographed and richly directed, Road to Perdition is a stunning film. Add to that a coveted cast, fine script, music that’s both chilling and sensitive and finally, superb acting, and you get one hell of an movie, one that’s sure to garner lots of attention come Academy Award time.

Tom Hanks plays mobster Mike Sullivan in depression era Chicago. He’s a family man too with an able wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two sons, the eldest being his namesake who’s 12. Sullivan’s mob boss is the wealthy John Rooney (Paul Newman) who, we are told, took Sullivan in when he was a fatherless lad. Rooney gave him everything and for that, Sullivan is eternally beholding. And when Rooney needs some dirty work done, Sullivan is more than obliging. Plus, he’s known for doing his job well. He’s levelheaded unlike Rooney’s real son, the reckless and vindictive Connor (Daniel Craig).

One night, Michael, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) decides to find out a little more about the type of work his Dad does. He hides in the car when Sullivan and Connor go on one of Rooney’s missions which goes badly. The impetuous Connor loses control and needlessly kills a man; Sullivan is forced to defend his action and more bodies fall. The kid spies it all from behind some wooden slats. And, he’s quickly found out. Will Michael keep his father’s and the mob’s secret?

A resulting tragedy, spawned by Connor’s fears and jealousy, causes father and son to hit the road, partly to escape and partly to martial their forces for revenge. Rooney’s tormented loyalty to the hotheaded Connor, however, rends his relationship with surrogate son Sullivan. “It’s a natural law”, Rooney says at one point. “Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.”

While on the run, the story develops to show the vast crevice between the two Sullivans and how little the father knows of the son. And thanks to an especially lean acting style from Hanks, the bonding moments we’re given are less sentimental and far more realistic than we might have hoped for.

Sullivan has to stay one step ahead of a strange hit man, a “crime photographer” named Maguire (Jude Law) who takes particular pleasure in photographing dead bodies. Along the road, Sullivan makes a crucial mistake by messing with mob money. Even if he’s just in his revenge; even if he manages to get all the baddies, Sullivan is doomed. The tragedy is in Sullivan not realizing this even when he tries to make his final deal to complete his mission to kill Connor and stay alive himself.

Lotta says: Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall have created a gorgeously stylized and atmospheric picture with great attention to detail. Maguire is a plum of a role for Law. The handsome actor couldn’t look any uglier, sporting stained teeth, ripped, distorted fingernails and bent spine. A special word about Tyler Hoechlin who plays son Michael – he’s extraordinarily good for his first role. And you can see that Hanks has taken the time to shepherd him along. As for Hanks, he’s all business here, somber and menacing and it suits him well. Paul Newman is a sharp as he’s ever been – a really good role for the old man! Stanley Tucci does a nice turn as mobster Frank Nitti. I loved this movie.

Reviewed 7/12/02