In the follow up film to Sam Mendes‘ American Beauty, this truly remarkable film wins me over ever single time I view it. Personally, I am a huge fan of all Tom Hanks’ work and this is probably my absolute favorite. Tom Hanks plays his role quite a bit more reserved that what I am used to seeing. In doing so, he does more with looks (as opposed to pages of dialog) to convey emotions that come through so believably this was just a fine performance all around.
In Road to Perdition, Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) works for the Irish equivalent of the Mob and in a prohibition-era setting, his employment is really all that keeps his family alive and off the streets. Michael is the hitman for his boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) and keeps his family (well just his kids in) in the dark as to how he provides for the family. One night, while accompanying John’s loose cannon son Connor (Daniel Craig), the meeting goes wrong, shooting erupts and Sullivan’s son Michael Jr. witnesses his father’s handy work. While Michael makes assurances that his son will keep quiet, Connor is not convinced and pays Michael’s family a visit to “make sure” no one talks, killing his wife and other son. Michael sets out to find sympathizers but as he finds their refusal to turn Connor over for deserving justice, he then finds that he and his son are on their own and now being hunted. It is then Michael and his son have no choice but to take on the mob and hit to do so will hit them where it hurts them most…their wallets.
This movie may sound all about gangbusters and like some tommy gun jamboree, but as Michael and his son are essentially all on their own, this tale becomes the story of bonding between an absent and isolated father coming to know his role model lacking son. I find it so incredible the depth that Tom Hanks has as he is able to play a hilarious comic role in one movie then turn around and portray this incredibly soft-spoken but tough and yet heartfelt character of Michael Sullivan. I don’t think he’s done anything this impressive and dramatic (outside of Philadelphia) and so I am more and more agreeing with the quote I once hear that “Tom Hanks really is America’s favorite actor” and I think he can do no wrong.
Much to my delight, Thomas Newman scored this wonderful movie and I have been following his work increasingly since The Shawshank Redemption. His scores have so much life and character to them that they are almost a living entity interacting with the cast. I know that’s impossible as the score is added in during post, but the score was so haunting but with glimmers of hope that it is such a moving experience. For those of you who either haven’t seen this film, or are not familiar with Newman’s work I’d suggest starting with this film, then go revisit Shawshank, give The Salton Sea a try, take your pick of either American Beauty or Cinderella Man and end up with either Finding Nemo (also amazing) or WALL-E. Frankly I’d find it impossible to be disappointed with any of his work.
To me, and in some weird way, this movie paved it’s own course and became a success because of the different styles and genres it encapsulated. This film is the perfect mob related, prohibition-era, father and son, coming of age, revenge/redemption road trip story. Whew, tough to believe all that’s all in this film, but it is. Sam Mendes (or maybe his production designer or DP) has an eye for setting, mood and locale and everything in this film felt nostalgic yet gloomy with hints of reverence. This is a near perfect film and even the acting of newcomer Tyler Hoechlin playing Michael Jr. seemed to have a great level of sophistication for someone acting in his first movie. I guess acting amongst cinema greats like Hanks and Newman, you tend to pick up a few things.
The supporting cast was also just amazing. Even at an old age, Paul Newman can act like few in Hollywood can. He has a power and also an approachability to his performance. You can know him but also fear him and that’s just damn impressive. Also Jude Law, who was in so much make up (much like Guy Pearce in The Count of Monte Cristo), he almost disappears behind his costume and played such the creepy and very dangerous hitman. Now I never really cared for his work before but here he proved he’s got something and I’ve been partial to him ever since (he’s awesome in A.I.). Even Stanley Tucci, playing Fran Nitti (which was just as impressive as his role of Lucky Luciano in the underrated Billy Bathgate) was just another high caliber addition to this acting powerhouse. For as fine as the performances were, I do find one weak casting decision and it is with Daniel Craig. His role was so weaselly and vile that casting Craig seemed like a waste of talent and they’d have been better off giving this throw-away role to someone else.
For as great as the bonding between the father and son is, there are plenty of other elements combining to make this sensational film. As I wrote above, the sets, locales, dress and tone of the film feel like you are actually watching the characters in the 30’s. Not having been there myself, I don’t have any basis for comparison but it feels so genuine to me that I was instantly on board and felt transported back to that time. Kind of like looking at a Norman Rockwell painting, only with tommy guns. Finally, (and again) my favorite part of the film was the music. As great as it was, and I feel like I could go on for days praising it, I think my comments above got the point across.
This film really has so much going for it and I believe it is a near masterpiece. In a film where a man rises to become the hero amidst the heartbreak and personal turmoil, the bad guys get what they deserve and the street scene near the end is one of the finest shots in the film complimented and driven almost entirely by Thomas Newman’s masterful score…wow, it gives me goosebumps just writing about it. I think I may just throw the movie back in the DVD player and watch it again.
G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED