The Road to Perdition

Summer is here, which is why the release of The Road to Perdition is odd. This movie has the look, scope, and feel of a movie geared towards older, more sophisticated audiences, and would most likely arrive at Oscar season near the end of the year. Releasing it in the middle of a crowded, big dumb summer is a counter-strategy to appeal to people who would appreciate some thought in the films they see. It works well. The Road to Perdition is based on a graphic novel (for those who don't know - big comic book) by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, and adapted by David Self (Thirteen Days, The Haunting), and has a higher profile because it the choice for director Sam Mendes as his follow-up to American Beauty. And it stars Tom Hanks (in a very different role for him) and Paul Newman, two of the leading actors of their respective generations. And the talent behind the camera is considerable; it is chock-full of Academy Award winners and nominees. In other words, this is a movie to watch out for, regardless of if the participants say so or not.

The result is at times, spellbinding. The Road to Perdition is a tale about fathers and sons, and the effect they have on each other and others. One of the fathers is John Rooney (Paul Newman, Where the Money Is, Message in a Bottle), the local boss of the mafia. His son, Connor (Daniel Craig, Tomb Raider, I Dreamed of Africa) is impatient and wants to take over the business, and is intensely jealous of Michael Sullivan (Hanks, Cast Away, The Green Mile). Sullivan is like a surrogate son to Rooney, who took him in as an orphan. He is a trusted enforcer and a good father to his two sons. Sullivan's son's do not know what he does for a living, but are understandably curious. His older son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin, Train Quest, Family Tree) hides in the car one night and witnesses Sullivan and Connor kill a man. This act sets certain events in motion that result in Connor murdering Sullivan's wife and other son. Sullivan and Michael go on the run, plotting revenge on Connor for his transgressions.

Connor is in hiding, and to flush him out, Sullivan begins robbing banks of dirty money. Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci, Big Trouble, Sidewalks of New York) sends Harlen Maguire (Jude Law, A.I., Enemy at the Gates) to kill Sullivan. So Sullivan needs to somehow find Connor, protect Michael, and elude Maguire, all at the same time. What is striking about The Road to Perdition is the tone. This is a movie that moves steadily forward, punctuated by short bursts of violence. The overall movie is subdued and restrained, much like the Sullivan character. It is a great performance by Hanks, who is going far against type. His portrayal of Sullivan looks almost uncomfortable trying to reconcile his paternal love with his job. Newman is also great as Rooney, torn between his real son and Sullivan. There is an overall sense of sadness pervading the film, aided by cinematography by Academy Award winner Conrad L. Hall (American Beauty, A Civil Action), costumes by Academy Award winner Albert Wolsky (Lucky Numbers, Galaxy Quest), set decoration by Academy Award winner Nancy Haigh (A.I., O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and music by Academy Award winner Thomas Newman (The Salton Sea, In the Bedroom). The film reeks of Depression era Chicago circa 1931.

With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, The Road to Perdition feels at times like it has an inflated sense of self-importance. This should not discount the good work of everybody involved, but the work is good, not outstanding. Mendes does a good job at putting all the elements together, but if feels like he paid more attention to minute details for all the aesthetics rather than focusing on the emotional resonance of the basic story. There are grand themes at work here, about redemption and revenge, and a double meaning on the title, which, in the film, is a town where Sullivan's sister-in-law lives. The revenge aspect plays well, the redemption part is underutilized. By staring where it does, one gets a decent sense of the feelings between Rooney and Connor and Rooney and Sullivan, but not between Sullivan and his son. At times, The Road to Perdition feels a little too paced, like Mendes is trying to pad the story. The fantastic sets make up for this part. So while The Road to Perdition may have its (small) flaws, it is still much better than most of what is out there currently.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 59 minutes, Rated R for violence and language.

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