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Movie Review: Road To Perdition

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Released by Dreamworks SKG and 20th Century Fox Pictures

Starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Jude Law

Written by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner (graphic novel), and David Self (screenplay)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Rated R, 119 minutes


"Perdition" does double duty in this film, with its traditional meaning of "loss of the soul, or eternal damnation" being very applicable. It's also a town in the movie, the destination for the fleeing Mike Sullivan and his son as they try to start over.


It is 1931, and America is in the midst of the crippling Great Depression. Good jobs are scarce, and Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) supports his family by working for local entrepreneur John Rooney (Paul Newman), who is a father figure to him. Sullivan's son, Michael (Tyler Hoechlin of Train Quest), is curious about what his father does for a living and why he carries a gun to work. He sneaks into his father's car one night, and witnesses the elder Sullivan and Rooney's son Connor (Daniel Craig of Tomb Raider) gun down a few men who had run afoul of Rooney. They boy is spotted soon enough, but Sullivan swears his son can keep a secret, and nothing more is made of it.


Sullivan, however, quickly finds that all is not well. Narrowly escaping the wrath of John Rooney, Sullivan takes his son and begins driving to an aunt's house, in Perdition. Rooney and Al Capone's crony Frank Nitti (the always-excellent Stanley Tucci) hire out a hitman, Harlan Maguire (Jude Law of Enemy at the Gates) to take out Sullivan. Maguire masquerades as a photographer, taking pictures of the people he has just killed and selling them to newspapers. With Maguire in pursuit, the chase is on.


Sullivan is relentless in his dual quests to keep his son safe and to bring down Rooney's empire. He risks his life robbing banks specifically for Capone money, just to get access to Capone's records. Eventually, he confronts Rooney again, but Rooney will not betray his own son to save the son he never had. Hanks and Newman are excellent on screen together; their confrontation below a church is full of tension and splendid dialog. In their conversation, Rooney reminds Sullivan that they're all killers, and none of them will see Heaven. Sullivan says that his son still could, and Rooney encourages him to make sure that happens.


And in the end, that is what Sullivan does. I could see the ending coming, virtually shot for shot, a half-hour away, but it didn't bother me at all. Getting to that point was fun, riveting, and eminently watchable. Road to Perdition is definitely a journey, not a destination. I won't spoil the ending, but both its message and its images are powerful, and the younger Sullivan should still be able to fulfill his father's desire of getting into Heaven.


The cinematography in Road to Perdition is incredible. Every scene looks like it leaped off of a Norman Rockwell canvas and was transplanted onto the movie screen. The Rockwell theme of innocence is paramount here, as the younger Sullivan is an innocent who grew up a bit too quickly in one horrible moment. In fact, the younger Michael Sullivan, in his forced rites of passage, is an effective metaphor for America at the time, a country that had recently lost its innocence with World War I and the Black Sox scandal, and would have a hard road ahead with the continuing Depression, Prohibition, World War II, and the Cold War.


In fact, the last sequence in which both Sullivans are onscreen together is still Norman Rockwell, but it is Rockwell through a glass, darkly. It is another powerful image from a director who is becoming known as an excellent visual stylist. There is so much more to Road To Perdition than just the visuals, though. The story is always compelling, even during the slower segments of the film. The dichotomy between father and son Sullivan is always paramount, with the former trying to preserve the latter's tattered innocence, and the latter hoping the former can be redeemed, far away from the life that forced them to run.


The acting in Road to Perdition is always top-notch, matching its superb cinematography and skillful directing. This is that rare movie with only the occasional minor and very forgivable flaw. It was a joy to watch such fine actors move through an excellent story, and come alive in the amazing scenes provided for them. This is easily the best movie I've seen since The Fellowship Of The Ring last year, and even Tolkien's second big-screen offering might have a hard time dislodging Road To Perdition as my movie of the year. 9/10


Dr. Tom

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