Road To Perdition

Tommy guns. Trilby hats. Tom Hanks on top form. Do it!

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 02 Dec 2004 by Craig Eastman
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Tommy guns and trilbys. Can life possibly get any better? Not if Sam Mendes has anything to do with it. Looking for something different yet equally award-centric, the man who brought us the sublime American Beauty turned his attention to the graphic novel Road To Perdition by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. A wise move since it has tommy guns in it. Stripping it of it's pulp origins and laying bare the central theme of the father-son dynamic (and tommy guns), Kate Winslet's other half roped in the collective talents of Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig and, crucially, revered director of photography Conrad Hall to deliver one of 2002's most involving and atmospheric dramas. With tommy guns. Budda-budda-budda-budda!

Now, tommy guns aside (budda-budda-budda-budda!), Road To Perdition isn't your average gangster movie. Take The Untouchables; a fantastic piece of comic book showboating from Brian De Palma that remains perhaps the most entertaining genre entry, but it takes a little too many liberties and lacks any poignancy. And The Godfather; my god, what about The Godfather? Brando chewing cotton wool, James Caan getting the perforation of a lifetime and Al Pacino. Epic family meditation over a dinner of pasta it may be, but it lacks real heart. "Heart?", you cry? Yes, heart. Gangsters have hearts too you know (and tommmy guns), and praise be to Road To Perdition for showing us that those hearts can be balanced with tommy guns in the most entertaining and artistically sound fashion.

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Hanks plays the central role of Mike Sullivan, an enforcer for local mob ruler John Rooney (Paul Newman). A man with a fearful reputation among his peers, Sullivan also has a troubled past that saw Rooney take him under his wing, subsequently becoming John's father figure. Now with a family of his own, Sullivan is keen to shield his two young sons from the life of violence he leads, but Rooney's son Connor (ladie's favourite Daniel Craig), jealous of his father's relationship with Mike, soon puts paid to that. When Sullivan's oldest son Michael (Tyler Hoechlin) hides in the back of his father's car one night, he witnesses Connor's murder of a mob member who has some dirt on the younger Rooney, and his father's subsequent tommy gun-aided (budda-budda-budda-budda!) execution of the victim's two bodyguards. When Michael is rumbled Connor realises he finally has the upper hand over Sullivan, and so begins the movie's cycle of violence and revenge.

Setting Sullivan Snr. up for two in the back of the head from a local club owner, Connor decides the best way to cover his tracks is to send the rest of the clan the way of the dodo, murdering Mike's wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and younger son. He fails to cap young Michael though, and when his father returns home unscathed to find 50% of his family assets have gone into mortal liquidation, he and the young lad hit the road to buy themselves some time while Sullivan works out best how to set the record straight. The set-up might not sound like anything too startlingly original, but letting that bother you in the slightest would be rather remiss, as Road To Perdition soon proves itself packed to the gunnels with top notch performances, stylish direction and more all-out class than, well, most other stuff.

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Setting out it's stall early, Perdition soon marks itself out as a more atmospheric beast then the competition. Rain probably hasn't been used so effectively since Blade Runner, and rather than being a cheap noir cop-out it does actually serve to enhance the mood massively. Of course that it does so is mostly thanks to the late, great Conrad Hall, cinematographer beyond compare and showcasing his talents here for the final time before his death. And what a way to go. Rarely will you see such simple yet stunningly effective use of lighting, with every scene a veritable work of art, so much so in fact that I spent longer trying to decide on screen grabs for this review than any other I've written.

Lighting's one thing, but here it has a not-so-silent partner in the form of Thomas Newman's excellent low-key score. Where Ennio Morricone served up a delightfully pulpish fanfare of brass and bass for The Untouchables, here Newman prefers a more subtle, isidious score of the type that's so effective you don't even notice it's there, influencing the mood on a practically subconscious level. Likewise the camerawork and, in fact, every other technical aspect of this movie. There's no showboating here from anyone, just masters of their chosen profession ensuring that any number of minimalist flourishes come together flawlessly in conspiring to produce the most rewarding of results.

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NNever mind all that bollocks though, for this movie either lives like a king or dies on it's knees like a sobbing pimp on the strengths of it's performances. Need I bother telling you the answer? Now, I'm not the world's biggest fan of Tom Hanks. I liked Apollo 13 because he wasn't being Tom Hanks; you know, that Tom Hanks thing Tom Hanks does where everyone loves him and he kind of half-guffaws while he talks. I also like Saving Private Ryan beacause he doesn't do the Tom Hanks thing either, and grown men die horrendously in the mud clutching their innards in their cold hands whilst screaming for their mothers. Other than that I could really take him or leave him. Here, I am pleased to report, he is not only not Tom Hanks, but he manages to give what I personally think is his best performance to date.

Eking out an almost insane ammount of emotive content from a deceptively difficult role, Hanks really does make the film, bringing extraordinary depth to the table as he wrestles the love for his son against the love for his adoptive father. No mean feat, I'm sure you'll agree, when you consider the support he receives from a startlingly effective Paul Newman, a gloriously sadistic (and just plain sad) Daniel Craig, and Jude Law in a quality role as a photographer-cum-killer who Connor hires to do in the Sullivans. It's wall to wall talent in here, and rather than too many cooks spoiling the broth, the leads somehow manage to give each other enough space to ensure there's no overlap in ego. In terms of all-round performances, Road To Perdition is, if not number one, certainly easily amongst the best the year's dramas have to offer, not to mention gangster movies in general.

I could waffle on all day about Perdition but I'm not going to. Like all my favourite movies I'd rather let you go out and enjoy it for yourself. In the case of this little gem I positively demand it, and if you don't there's every possibility I may visit your home, fill your pillow with soiled cat litter and attach your washing machine flow pipe to the outlet of your toilet. And then waste you with a tommy gun. Budda-budda-budda-budda!

Disko awards this movie 5 out of 5 "Hoo-ha!" Units

Sam Mendes
Cast list:
Tom Hanks (Mike Sullivan)
Paul Newman (John Rooney)
Daniel Craig (Connor Rooney)
Tyler Hoechlin (Michael Sullivan)