Road To Perdition is a wonderful film based on a graphic novel of the same name written by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner. It immerses the viewer in six weeks of a fateful Depression-era winter in 1931 when a hitman's professional life and personal life come crumbling down after his troubled eldest son witnesses a brutal gang slaying. Fearing the boy will talk, the ruthless, avaricious son of the Irish gang's elderly leader marks the loyal-to-a-fault hitman for death and murders his wife and youngest son. The hitman, Michael Sullivan, must take his son on the road with him as he seeks redemption as a father, a safe life for his boy, and vengeance for his slaughtered family.
If you enjoy good, tense film noir drama and excellent acting, go see this film. Immediately. I will be very surprised if this latest directorial effort by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) isn't at least nominated for the Oscar for Best Film at the next go-round of the Academy Awards. I've been seeing a few mixed reviews in which the critics claim the film is dull and Tom Hanks is boring in his leading role: as far as I'm concerned, the critics weren't paying attention to the movie.
Hanks has never been better as Michael Sullivan, the grim, gentlemanly hitman who learns too late the price his work has on his family. Clint Eastwood would have played this role twenty years ago, and as good as he would have been, his portrayal wouldn't have been nearly as nuanced as Hanks' is.
This isn't a slam-bang gangster flick with over-the-top performances: it's a quieter, more thoughtful film about a man who kills not for money, pleasure or glory but solely out of a sense of duty to his boss, whom he views as his adoptive father. Hank's character will do anything for his family, be it his real family or his gang (but when he is forced to choose between the two, he chooses his own flesh and blood). He is a skilled killer, but you can tell this guy, had he not fallen under the elder gangster's wing as a youngster, would have been much happier to have lived his life in a more mundane profession that would have let him be a good father. Hanks is not boring; he's heartbreaking.
Paul Newman is wonderful as always as John Rooney, the conflicted, tough-minded, remorseful godfather of an Irish gang, and Jude Law is deliciously creepy as a ghoulish crime scene photographer who moonlights as a "gifted" killer-for-hire. Conrad Hall's cinematography is absolutely beautiful and painstakingly recreates images from the graphic novel. Thomas Newman's score is gorgeous, and sent us out on an immediate (but ultimately fruitless) 2 a.m. post-film excursion to search for the soundtrack at a nearby 24-hour Meijer's.
But the real strength of this film is its story. There's a lot of plot packed into its two-hour running time, but the pacing is excellent and nothing gets short shrift. The movie captures real human emotion and genuine tragedy; it is a story of familial love, betrayal and revenge that evokes echoes of King Lear and the Biblical tales of Cain and Abel and of Esau and Jacob as well as classic gangster movies. But it is also a more intimate story of a father who's trying to see that his son grows up to become a good man.
The violence in this film is adeptly handled; the gore is mainly offstage until it becomes necessary to show it for proper effect. And it does have some excellent gunfight scenes.
One of my favorite scenes happens early on. The action takes place at a wake. Hanks joins Newman at a piano, and they play a haunting duet together -- Sullivan is quite literally Rooney's "right hand man". Other wonderful scenes are Sullivan's trying to teach his son to drive a stick shift, and the subsequent amusing getaways the kid stages from various banks.
I won't say much more about the plot, because I hate spoilers, and I suspect many of you do, too. Just go see this movie; you won't be disappointed.
Credits and Information
Running Time: 2 hours
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: David Self
Cinematorgrapher: Conrad Hall
Score: Thomas Newman
Tom Hanks: Michael Sullivan
Jennifer Jason Leigh: Mrs. Sullivan
Tyler Hoechlin: Michael Sullivan Jr.
Paul Newman: John Rooney
Jude Law: Maguire
Daniel Craig: Connor Rooney
Stanley Tucci: Frank Nitti