Road To Perdition

Road To Perdition

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Chicago, 1931: bootleggers, gangsters, dangerous dames and hard men in heavy coats, the night club scene, the back street massacre, the kid on the corner crying his eyes out. You know it, you've been there. This is Capone country, where clich├ęs carry health warnings and everyone smokes.

Road To Perdition is a beautiful exception. It covers the territory without touching the walls. It walks through rain-splattered streets as if for the first time. The Thompson gun is less in evidence than its polished leather case and the etiquette of murder is scrupulously adhered to. Even the man "who owns this town", John Rooney (Paul Newman), a widower, a Catholic, has all the charm of the Irish, with a ruthless North American streak, well disguised by good manners.

Copy picture

Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) was an orphan child, brought up by Rooney with his own son, Connor (Daniel Craig). He has become the chief executioner, who takes pride in his work, abiding by its particular morality, unlike Connor, who behaves like a hoodlum. Discretion is his watchword. Even his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) doesn't know what he does.

This is the story of how 12-year-old Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin) spent six months on the road with his father. He calls him "Sir". There is a distance and formality about Sullivan, as if he carries the burden of his profession, like a sack of blood, across his shoulders. The boy discovers the truth of his heritage and learns to drive a getaway car.

Sam Mendes creates a mood of menace by avoiding obligatory violence. Conrad Hall, his DoP from American Beauty, works wonders with the look of the film. Every shot is an artistic gem, enhanced by exquisite winterscapes. Even the solitary use of slow motion can be forgiven.

By using the boy as a way into the plot, the audience remains uncertain as to who fits where and how the power structures operate. This adds intrigue to what might otherwise have landed itself in familiar territory. It's in the detail that Mendes makes his mark. "There is only one certainty," Rooney tells Sullivan. "We won't see heaven."

Hanks internalises his role, presenting Michael as a man who has repressed emotion in order to provide "food on your plate, young man." An assassin with feelings is like a fish on a bicycle. And Hanks is no fish. The relationship between father and son remains respectful throughout. First time actor Hoechlin rises to the occasion superbly.

Newman hasn't had a part this good for ages. He makes no mistake with it. Jude Law, as a freelance photographer, specialising in corpses ("I shoot the dead"), who moonlights as a contract killer, is comically threatening, while Craig, last seen as Francis Bacon's lover, is transformed into a psychotic second generation American.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2002
Share this with others on...
Road To Perdition packshot
Tom Hanks is a hitman for the Chicago mob in 1931, who goes on the run with his 12-year-old son.
Amazon link

Director: Sam Mendes

Writer: David Self, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner

Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci, Daniel Craig, Tyler Hoechlin, Liam Aiken

Year: 2002

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:


Search database: