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Road To Perdition

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Road To Perdition

Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman
Director: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: July 2002
Genre: Drama




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Review by Harvey Karten
4 stars out of 4

The road to perdition is paved with good intentions, and what better intention can a father have than to protect his young boy? In David Self's adaptation of the Max Allan Collins novel, Tom Hanks performs in the role of Michael Sullivan, a hit man for the Irish mob in Chicago during the Depression year of 1931. The choice of Sam Mendes as its director must have been a no brainer, since the fellow who led "American Beauty" to top honors as a drama of a dysfunctional suburban family could not have been wiser: "Road to Perdition" may be a gangster movie, but this is primarily an unusual, poignant, and powerful coming- of-age story about a man who is a hero to his boy, a son he insists must never follow the road that he took for himself in life. While Mendes's main interest is the relationship of Sullivan to his son, Michael Jr. (played by 13-year-old newcomer Tyler Hoechlin who got the job after an audition of 2,000 adolescents), some balance is achieved by contrasting another pair, gang kingpin John Rooney (Paul Newman) with his grown son and aspiring honcho, Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig). There is a third relationship of this nature as well, an implicit father-son bond between Michael Sullivan and John Rooney (Paul Newman), the man who figuratively saved Sullivan's life during our nation's most difficult economic times by giving him a house and money and who treated his hit man as though he were his own son.

After introducing the relationship of the various characters at a wake for one of the mob showing John Rooney to have the charisma made him the patriarch of the Irish mob in the Chicago area-- Mendes takes us to a frightening scene in which the thirteen-year old Michael, hiding in a trunk in the back seat of a car, stealthily witnesses his dad and others perform a hit on a man unable to pay his debt to the mob. Seen immediately thereafter by the gangsters, young Michael is sworn to secrecy, but his dad suspects rightly so that the boy's life is in danger, a theory confirmed when one of Rooney's mob enters the Sullivan home and guns down Michael Sr.'s wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her other son, Peter (Liam Aiken). Having experienced the betrayal of his life by the man who has treated him like a son, Sullivan is now bent on revenge but most of all on protecting his son, whose life is in danger as well as his own. He is pursued by Maguire (Jude Law), a press photographer doubling as a hit man, who has been hired track down and to kill Michael Sullivan.

The film has several scenes remarkable in their unpredictability, the best in my view occurring in a roadside diner in the middle of nowhere on a snow-filled night when Maguire has successfully found Sullivan getting some food while driving his son to an aunt's home by the sea. Not realizing who the man is, Sullivan gets into a conversation with the diner at the next table little appreciating that this may be the last chat he will have in this life.

While there are fine performances all around including one with Al Capone's first lieutenant, Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci, fitted up with a terrific hairpiece) Jude Law's is the most memorable. His smashing good looks converted into that of an ordinary- looking fellow with yellowing and rotting teeth and a pale skin, Law is the essence of cool, providing some of the film's humor as he takes the photo of a man he has just shot, who lies on the floor dying and hears the photograph gently say, "Smile!" Entire blocks are filled with vintage automobiles, Care has apparently been taking with the wardrobe, as designer Albert Wolsky created fabrics that are much heavier than today's fashions and lie on the men's bodies in a different way from today's Armanis. Conrad L. Hall avoids the usual sepia photography associated with period pieces of this sort while retaining a noirish look with a tilt toward the monochromatic.

So move over, "Godfather." "Road to Perdition" not only evokes the concept of The Mob as a business, a corporation with a board of directors, the promotion of the most competent people and the sudden disappearance of those who have lost favor: this year's entry combining the always fascinating saga of Depression-year mobsters and coming-of-age theme is a potent one, entering the market surprisingly during this mostly fluffy summer season to share with "Minority Report" the status of near masterwork.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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