Road To Perdition


Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by:David Self
Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Tyler Hoechlin
Released: October 10, 2002
Grade: A

With his very first movie, English-born director Sam Mendes perfected the craft and set a near impossible benchmark.  American Beauty swept every major award and is regarded by many as the best film of the last ten years.  After walking off the stage with his Oscar back in March 2000, he said to himself “What on earth am I going to do now?  If I never make a movie again, I am a legend.”

Put simply, Road To Perdition is the story of a father and his son.  In fact, its the story of two fathers and two sons.  12-year-old Mike Sullivan (Hoechlin) loves his dad (Hanks) but has reached the age where maturity and curiosity have raised questions about who his father really is.  Mike knows his dad runs errands for Mr. Rooney (Newman) but what does this mean and how can it provide them enough money by which to live?

Hiding in the back seat of his father’s car, Mike follows his dad and Mr. Rooney’s son, Connor (Craig) on a moonlight mission to see what his dad really does.  The car pulls up at a warehouse and peering through a gap in the outside wall, Mike sees Connor shoot a man in the back of the head and his father blow away a group of armed men.  Horrified with the realisation his dad is a gangster, Mike is discovered and asked not to utter a word to anyone.

Although the aging Mr. Rooney is satisfied with Mike’s promise to keep quiet, his reckless son takes matters into his own hands.  Connor kills Mike’s mother (Leigh) and brother and sets the wheels in motion for Mike and his dad to meet a similar fate.  Fleeing their home, they head to Chicago to find work and make a new start but Connor has hired an assailant (Law) to finish the job.  For the first time in their lives, Mike and his father are finally getting to know each other but one feels the time they have together is going to be severely limited.

Despite the differing storylines, Road To Perdition and American Beauty share many traits.  This is evident from the very first scene in both films where the outcome is implied.  76-year-old cinematographer Conrad Hall (who won an Oscar for Beauty) operates his lens with perfection.  Softly, he moves his camera in, he moves his camera out, he moves the camera to the side - it’s rarely still.  You can see the constructive thought that has gone into every shot and every camera angle.  This is more evident late in the film and I won’t identify my favourite moments but make sure you appreciate the talent of both Hall and Mendes.

Tom Hanks and Paul Newman are impeccably cast in their complicated roles.  Unlike most leading characters, these guys have both good and bad qualities.  The audience must make a conscious decision to evaluate these characters and determine their feelings towards them.  Also note the lack of spoken dialogue in the film, particularly in the latter stages.  The setting and characters expressions do all the storytelling.  As Mike, Tyler Hoechlin displays the acting wisdom of someone much older and feeds off Hanks like a seasoned veteran.  I hope his age doesn’t work against him when the award season kicks off in a few months.

If you have any appreciation for cinema or great storytelling, Road To Perdition will provide the ultimate satisfaction.  It’s two out of two for Sam Mendes.