Road to Perdition (6/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


One thing to learn from Road to Perdition is don’t judge a movie by its trailer.  The coming attractions for this film were among the worst I’ve ever seen.  The actual movie is 10, no 100, times better than the dreadful trailer.  Not as dark and depressing as the coming attractions advertise, it’s an entertaining, rip-snorting chase movie based on revenge, which is set in motion when Tom Hanks’ (who plays Michael Sullivan) son, Michael Sullivan, Jr., played by Tyler Hoechlin, witnesses a gangland execution.  It presents an evocative picture of 1931. On one level, the one of sheer entertainment, it works.

The other level is how they’re promoting it with the principals accentuating that it’s a study of father-son relationships between Hanks and his putative father, John Rooney (Paul Newman), Hanks and his son, Newman and his real son, Connor, well played by Paul Craig, and Hanks and Craig (sort of half-brothers) who are trying to kill each other throughout the movie.  Don’t let this turn you off.  While they are the essence of the film, and there is a good confrontational scene between Hanks and Newman, and also some good scenes between Hanks and Hoechlin, the father-son themes are not over-emphasized by scriptwriter David Self and Director Sam Mendes to the detriment of the action.  The relationships are there to ponder, but they don't slap you in the face with them with a lot of touchy, feely talk. This is a good chase movie.

Road to Perdition continues Hollywood’s glorification of organized crime.  It shows Mafia Dons (Paul Newman, Stanley Tucci) and hit men (Tom Hanks) as reasonable, agreeable chaps, a lamentable trend started by Marlon Brando and copied by Max von Sydow in Three Days of the Condor.   

A movie can be worthwhile even though it contains premises that are not credible.  The question that’s asked at the beginning, “Was Michael Sullivan (Hanks) a good man?” is disingenuous.  He was a hit man!  He killed people for a living! Obviously in normal life it would be laughable to even ask this question about a hit man. But this is Hollywood.  And throughout the movie, we are led to accept the fact that Michael Sullivan is a good man forced to do bad things as we follow him and his son on the run.

 In addition to the exceptional work by Hanks, there are two roles that are accurate criminal characterizations, Connor Rooney, and the hit man chasing Sullivan, Maguire, played by Jude Law, doing probably the best work in the film. (If there are Oscars waiting for this film, Law should be first in line, and Craig should be right behind him.)  They are shown as true psychopaths.

It wouldn’t lessen the entertainment value if Director Mendes had portrayed Frank Nitti (played by Tucci) and the hierarchy of the Chicago mob after the jailing of Al Capone in 1929 accurately (Paul Ricca was the Boss, not Nitti).  Oh, well, nothing’s perfect, certainly not in Hollywood. 

Director Mendes does keep Jennifer Jason Leigh from destroying the movie with one of her odd characterizations, like she did to defenseless Dorothy Parker in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. 

Despite its foreboding name and depressing trailer, Road to Perdition is an action movie with no slow spots, an enjoyable, well-acted, written, and directed two hours. 

The End