Road To Perdition Review
Winning an Oscar for his first feature film, stealing Kate Winslet and receiving collaborative offers from every Hollywood leading star has obviously not cheapened the quality of Sam Mendes' output, as he returns from the success of American Beauty with a brilliant, brooding stylised gangster movie in the form of Road To Perdition.
Based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, Road To Perdition is set in prohibition-era-1931 Chicago, and stars Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan, a hitman working for the feared and respected mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney treats Michael like his own son, more so than his legitimate son Connor (Daniel Craig). One night, whilst on a mission, Michael's oldest son, also called Michael (Tyler Hoechlin), hides aboard his father's vehicle and witnesses his father and Connor murdering a rival. After realising that young Michael witnessed the murder, the senior Michael is forced on the run with his son when Connor starts erratically trying to murder the boy to stop the murder leaking out.
Surprisingly, Road To Perdition is more similar to American Beauty than it may seem initially. Essentially, both films focus on the familial unit, primarily the role of the father figure. Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan as a worn-down cauldron of inner-rage, as if morally destroyed by the job he has become sucked into through an escape from poverty. It's a very different performance for Hanks, certainly his darkest role in nearly twenty years, and he delivers a very understated performance that won't win him any Oscars but should maintain his level of respect amongst audiences. Paul Newman is the classiest act of the film, and seeing the blue-eyed veteran at the tail-end of his career suggests almost an end of an era, with no obvious heir to the throne. Jude Law is badly miscast as Harlan Maguire, and does nothing with his role to attract praise. Young Tyler Hoechlin is acceptable as the junior Micheal, but he doesn't generate as much emotion as one would hope from a child going through such intense anguish.
Mendes directs Road To Perdition with reverence and yet still hones in on the film's graphic novel origins. He evokes the sense of prohibition-era Chicago through a streamlined filter, and the film is a fifty-fifty contrast of darkness and light as shot by acclaimed cinematographer Conrad Hall. Thomas Newman provides a trademark score of fluctuating strings, and this helps the film travel along a ruthless path without ever wallowing in too much emotional pain. The screenplay by David Self is lacking, but fortunately the acting and the directing help to gloss over the holes in the plot. Self is no Alan Ball, and provides two-dimensional framings for the majority of the supporting characters that would usually be confined to comic-books only.
Overall, Road To Perdition is a thoroughly entertaining journey through the vicious heart of a thirties' gangster story, as told via a threat to a "normal" familial unit. Whilst not reaching the heights of Mendes' previous American Beauty, it still manages to satisfy its targets. It won't prove to be another Oscar sweep for Mendes, but it certainly ensures that his next film will be highly anticipated.