Film Reviews

ROAD TO PERDITION

By • Jul 12th, 2002 •

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It’s slow – very, very slow. It’s not the ultimate Depression-era gangster movie. That’s pure PR hype. It is beautiful to look at with director Sam Mendes’ theatrical attention to set design elevating the atmospheric mood. The failure of ROAD TO PERDITION lies in the pace and the main characters that are one-dimensional and lack introspection – we need to know in some way why characters do what they do.

ROAD TO PERDITION starts off wrong. It uses THE DEER HUNTER opening – instead of a Polish wedding we have an Irish wake with eulogies and enforcer Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and crime boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) playing piano together. Rooney is a powerful crime boss who raised Sullivan like a son, alienating his resentful son Connor (Daniel Craig). Sullivan is a distant husband to petrified Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and stern father to 12 year-old Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin) and younger son Peter. When we first see Michael Jr he’s stealing candy. He’s curious about why his father has a gun and what he does for a living. Michael Jr sneaks out one night and witnesses his father and Connor kill a lot of people.

Michael Jr promises not to tell anyone what he witnessed, but Connor decides the boy can’t be trusted. Instead of killing Sullivan and Michael Jr, professional hit man Connor carelessly fails to notice that only Annie and Peter are at home. He kills them and leaves. Sullivan plans on revenge. Through an intermediary, Rooney offers Sullivan $25,000 in cash (a fortune in the 1930s) and the suggestion to leave the country. Sullivan refuses the money and goes to Chicago to see Rooney’s boss Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci) and asks for a job – after he kills Connor. Nitti tells Sullivan he can’t help him and then hires Maguire (Jude Law), a rogue hit man, to handle the problem. Father and son start robbing banks, but only taking the money held by the bankers for the crime bosses.

If this is really a story about a father and son, then the filmmakers don’t have children. Now on the run to an aunt’s house in Perdition, Sullivan should start talking hard facts. Michael Jr does tell his father it’s all his fault and it is. Sullivan tells him it’s not his fault. Well then, who is to blame?

What made Sullivan a ruthless killer? What does he want for his sons? Why is Rooney so blindly devoted to Connor?

Jude Law brings a fascinating, sadistic glee to his small, pivotal role as a hit man who enjoys photographing dead, and near dead, people. He’s framed his best work. Daniel Craig also takes full advantage of his scenes to relate emotions not verbalized. Even Newman uses his small frame and aged, angular face to convey a life marred with brutal decisions. He’s one character we don’t expect moral clarification from.

Hanks has a difficult role here: Is he a killer who values family above all else? Well, we don’t see much evidence of a happy family life to support this and the bond between father and son is noticeably dismal. While we don’t expect a hit man to get teary and weep, the script forces Hanks to play Sullivan with no colorations.

When we want to get all puffed-up in lofty cinematic jargon, around my house we say: The role had no “character arc.”

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