This is, after all, a movie about hit men, vengeance, and betrayal, but it is more about men than gore. 

ROAD TO PERDITION   

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                Standing on a bright stretch of sand by Lake Michigan, a young boy opens Road to Perdition with this calm statement:  “I once spent six weeks on the road with Michael Sullivan.  This is our story.”  And what a story it is.  Set during the winter of 1931 and filmed superbly by Conrad Hall in a series of stark paintings that hold you tightly for two hours, the movie builds one enduring image after another.  You will remember the dark atmosphere of Chicago’s winter streets, the blinding light that sweeps the endless stretches of farm flatlands outside the city, and indelibly, that strip of sand beside the water.  It is hard to remember a movie more beautifully made than this one.

                It is the winter of 1931 somewhere near Chicago’s gangland hierarchy.  Al Capone is the unseen presence.  Frank Nita (Stanley Gucci) runs Capone’s show; John Rooney (Paul Newman) is the undisputed boss of a nameless nearby town, and Michael Sullivan, surrogate son to Rooney, is the old man’s loyal hit man.  Director Sam Mendes draws extraordinary, controlled, performances from Hanks and Newman who slide into their roles as killers with complete credibility.  You will see a ghoulish performance by the inventive Jude Law and a heartbreaking one from Tyler Hatchling as a 12-year old forced to grow up in an instant.  The two major talents of Hanks and Newman, are joined under Mr. Mendes’ eye to bring an era to life. Fine supporting players, strong music, and inspired filming – all are joined under Mr. Mendes’ eye to bring an era to life.

                Thomas Newman’s music underlines the powerful imagery and is used skillfully to lessen the shock of the essential violence.  This is, after all, a movie about hit men, vengeance, and betrayal, but it is more about men than gore.  As John Rooney says, “This is the life we chose.  There is only one guarantee.  None of us will ever see heaven.”  Perdition is not hell; it is ruin.  In this case ruin flows from conscious choice.

                Rooney has one detestable son, Connor (Daniel Craig), and one favorite near-son, Michael Sullivan (Mr. Hanks).  Michael in turn has sons Michael Jr., Peter, and his wife Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  He comes home at night to a rather formal family culture that revolves around his own still presence.  Haunted by the mystery of his father’s work, twelve year old Michael Jr. lights the fuse to the plot by stowing away in the car to find out what his father actually does for a living.  Before dinner on this night, he has watched his father take a gun from his belt.

                A hit gone awry, followed by the volcanic eruption of Rooney’s son when he discovers the boy, sends father and son on the road trip to doom through a tangle of loyalty and betrayal.  Watch one bead of sweat roll down Hanks’ face when he’s cornered; follow the symbolism of a farm couple.  Remember when you stopped hoping for redemption.  This is storytelling at its best – emotionally wrenching, greatly rewarding.

 


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