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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 18.94%
Average: 28.79%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap: 1.52%

8 reviews, 84 user ratings

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Road to Perdition
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"A Beautiful Road To Nowhere That We've All Been Down Before"
3 stars

Who ever thought that hell could look so beautiful? That’s what the title of the film at least suggests, that the characters are on the metaphorical road to hell (in actuality, a town in Kansas) and this has been backed up by the star and filmmaker interviews. But if you look through a dozen different dictionaries and thesauruses, some will list “perdition” as hell, others suggest purgatory, and every once in a while you’ll discover heaven. Maybe Webster and his cronies are suggesting that each final destination is actually one in the same in a kind of drunken philosophical hash binge or maybe the definition of the word is as confused as the movie that uses it. Road To Perdition knows what its about but not why its about it.

The graphic novel (a.k.a. serious comic book) was about the revenge trip taken by its anti-hero, Michael O’Sullivan, a Depression-era hitman nicknamed the Archangel of Death (a moniker mysteriously absent in the film.) In the translation from ink to celluloid, Tom Hanks plays Sullivan (minus the “O”) as the father who’s a mystery to his own sons (Tyler Hoechlin & Liam Aiken) but also the son that crime boss John Looney (Paul Newman) never had. The one he did have, Connor (Daniel Craig) is the Shakespearean jealous type, a screw-up and a lout who’s going to prove to be more trouble than he’s worth.

When Michael Jr. stowsaway on one of daddy’s “missions”, he must carry around the biggest secret of his life when he witnesses Michael Sr. and Connor gun down some associates, a secret Connor isn’t sure the boy can keep to himself. In hasty desperation, he arranges for Michael and his family to be taken out, although such a dolt is he, that he can’t tell the difference between the two boys and conveniently forgets that there are two of them in the first place. With Mama Sullivan (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in an utterly thankless role) and young Peter sleeping with the fishes, the two Michaels pack up and head for Chicago seeking help in his plotted retribution.

From a standard plotline setup, commenting that we’ve been down this road before goes without saying. But the subtext about fathers and sons and the way Newman acknowledges that “sons are put upon this Earth to trouble their fathers” never fully branches out into what was deserving of a full text. The relationship between the Sullivans is reduced to singles: a single moment of bonding, a single fight, a single talk. The suggestion that Michael Sr. is a “hero” to his son never quite comes across, although the disappointment of realizing what daddy does for a living is nicely paralleled with a Lone Ranger picture book.

Correspondingly the key relationship between the Rooneys is muddled beyond the reasoning that puts and keeps the events of the film in motion. Boss John knows how useless Connor is, cursing the day he was born, yet goes to inordinate lengths to protect him. To give up one’s son is, no doubt, a troubling proposition, but the audience still has to understand and feel that love otherwise it’s the equivalent of rooting for a character just because he’s a big star, not because we should. Consequently the only relationship of any depth between Hanks and Newman suffers the emotional closure it deserves because we don’t believe the actions that lead up to it.

Feeling is the primary element missing from this story. From an eye-for-an-eye standpoint, the anger towards Connor’s actions become subdued when he disappears for the virtual length of the second half. A couple of the action sequences develop some nice suspense, but ultimately come off as more manufactured. Sadness for the Sullivan’s loss; fear of John Rooney as the man in charge or from Al Capone’s head enforcer, Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci giving an underwhelming performance in an underwritten role) or from Sullivan Sr. himself just aren’t there.

All the talk surrounding Hanks’ turn as the murderous main draw proves to be nothing but a lot of talk. Yes, he murders people and not in the self-defense/protective way that lead characters are only allowed. But Hanks has killed off people before in Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile. Yes, one as a WWII soldier on our side who nobly elects not to shoot a prisoner (a.k.a. mistake), but the other as a morally challenged prison guard marching prisoners to the electric chair. Who does he kill in Perdition? Well, as most gangsters usually do – other gangsters – hardly the most noble of humanitarians, so what’s the big deal? Is he really all that bad? Barely and especially not compared to the hitman of the novel with the intimidating handle who would walk into a room and almost superhumanly wipe out over a dozen victims.

This isn’t a discredit to Hanks’ performance who once again somehow manages to find new ways to emote the pain and sorrow of a man by the subtlest of facial expressions. Hanks’ Sullivan is never a man we loathe, just one we can hope to empathize with. We believe him when he states he didn’t mean to be “different” or how he doesn’t want this life for his son. But we also could have already guessed that since Sullivan is rather a sullen fella for the length of the film. Newman has some great loud scenes with Connor and some extraordinary quiet time with Sullivan (including one at a piano), but the only one to bring some life to the proceedings is the great Jude Law as the hired gun who takes and sells pictures of his victims. Every inch of Law’s performance jumps off the screen, from his walk to his sneaky look to his makeup. Will someone please cast this guy as a character who’s in more than just a third of a movie? Incidentally, Anthony LaPaglia’s performance as Al Capone was completely excised out of the film. (He receives a special thanks during the end credits.)

The real special thanks should be going to cinematographer Conrad Hall and production designer Dennis Gassner. If nothing else, Road To Perdition is one of the most beautiful looking films you’re likely to see. 1930s Chicago hasn’t looked this glorious since Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables and Hall masters both the sun and the shadows as if they were taken right out of the black-and-white pages of the graphic novel. Director Sam Mendes, however, must have spent so much time with his production team that he didn’t realize that the script elements weren’t being attended to as much as the light. How does a character walk into a nearly empty room and not notice the man in the corner waiting to gun him down? Obviously so it’s a shock to the audience, but what a beautiful composition it is.

Collins’ novel was hardly any great stretch of the gangster genre. It was pretty straightforward with the added incentive of “this must be more because it’s told mostly in pictures.” Art it certainly can be considered and the filmmakers have gone out of their way to ensure that this is an artsy character piece as opposed to the John Woo centerpieces that added fear to the Archangel legend. Fans of the book (as is almost always the case) are likely to be upset at some of the changes made in David Self’s (The Haunting, Thirteen Days) adaptation. For better or worse, patriarch Rooney is not involved in the betrayal of Sullivan, the subplot involving Eliot Ness has been excised and Jude Law’s hitman photographer is nowhere to be found in the picture book (unless you count an unnamed character in one of the final pages that bears a striking resemblance.)

These are actually great changes and likely the first thing an adaptation teacher would tell a student to drop, but why eliminate the traits that made your lead character such an attractive project in the first place? Hanks and the filmmakers may not have wanted to go too bloody with the protective angle (a la The Professional or Hard Boiled) but it’s a real shame that the emotional payoff comes in loose change, ignoring the pious irony of the novel and settling for a “Firestarter” ending without the pyrotechnics. Sure, it’s a beautiful road with great scenery, but it ultimately goes nowhere.

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originally posted: 07/12/02 11:20:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
DC Characters: For more in the DC Characters series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell overrrated imho 1 stars
10/08/09 MP Bartley Elegant and beautiful, but Mendes keeps you at arms length from the emotions of the piece. 4 stars
6/29/09 budo Very good movie. Dark, as it should have been. 5 stars
12/21/08 Shaun Wallner Kept me on the edge of the seat! 5 stars
3/03/08 ladavies I liked this movie. Maybe Tom Hanks was miscast, but it really held my interest. 4 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White slow with a few redeeming qualities 3 stars
5/17/07 ES Didn't hate it, didn't love it 3 stars
11/17/06 Alyssa Hale Booooring!!! Terrible 2 stars
9/08/06 Thomas Semesky Interesting characters. A little slow at times. Enjoyed Jude Law's character the best. 4 stars
8/04/06 Quigley Very good acting, music and screenplay. Even when Hanks plays a bad guy he still rules. 4 stars
6/09/06 Frank Rountree Another waste of Tom Hanks time. 2 stars
3/09/06 Wiseman Exellent Mob film. 5 stars
10/01/05 Jonathon Holmes a great mob film 5 stars
9/12/05 Melody Film that falls apart midway through - not at all believable! 2 stars
7/13/05 malcolm Godfather-like. Hanks awesome as usual. 4 stars
3/27/05 indrid cold Gorgeous production, but surprisingly boring. Jennifer only in it for about 45 seconds! 3 stars
3/07/05 Dan GREAT! 5 stars
2/21/05 Captain Craig Hanks should stay away from bad guy parts. Its just not him! 3 stars
12/13/04 Nicole The ending is great! 5 stars
10/18/04 Naka Flawed, could have been much better. but still thouroughly excellent. 4 stars
10/17/04 Pollo Great movie. Just see it!!! 5 stars
9/14/04 Daveman Gorgeously photographed but plodding and emotionally hollow, quite a waste of time. 2 stars
6/25/04 Karen Stockdale Wonderfully acted and wonderfully filmed - this film oozes quality and class 5 stars
2/25/04 Soulis with all this acting talent, I was hoping for more 3 stars
2/17/04 ettore morello Near to Godfather 5 stars
1/28/04 x-nonymous A damn good piece of gangster cinema. 5 stars
1/18/04 steve andrews The film shows patience with it's slow crescendo. Hanks eyes speak more than the dialouge 5 stars
12/01/03 I Would A story with so much potential turned into a piece of Hollywood fluff. 3 stars
8/11/03 Nicole Great movie 4 stars
8/04/03 Shane Myers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A very well scripted movie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
7/27/03 Monster W. Kung Melodramatic, predictable, and cartoonish, partially saved by good cinematography. 3 stars
6/15/03 Jack Sommersby High style can't hide a cliched script, yet it's watchable. 3 stars
6/06/03 Charles Tatum Really a perfect film 5 stars
5/28/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back Mo'Fos!!!) Dude, Conrad Hall is the coolest cinematographer. Camerawork is GREAT. 5 stars
5/17/03 George Jung One of the best films of 2002. 5 stars
4/29/03 Jin Best film I've seen in a long time. Hanks was astounding! 5 stars
4/18/03 Phil M. Aficionado Excellent cast provides solid entertainment; not A+ though 4 stars
4/18/03 Doc Shock Enjoyed this flick. 4 stars
4/06/03 Jessel Great atmospheric movie with a solid plot. Hanks excels. 5 stars
3/14/03 brentley Very enjoyable. Newman deserved the Oscar nomination. 5 stars
3/02/03 R.W. Welch High body count mob pic with outstanding turn by Newman. 4 stars
3/02/03 Rob P S Superbly done from top to bottom. 5 stars
2/07/03 123 stylish, well acted 4 stars
2/02/03 crazyquiverlips best movie of the millennium 5 stars
1/29/03 fraz not much of a story but beautifully filmed & superb understated acting 5 stars
1/19/03 Monster W. Kung Average, nothing more, nothing less. Comparisons to The Godfather are simply moronic. 3 stars
1/14/03 alien assassin I hope Paul Newman receives an Oscar for his performance 5 stars
1/06/03 . Just a great movie, if u like mob stuff, this one is great! 5 stars
12/12/02 Heat-seeking Mistletoe Tom Hanks as a mob hitman? Works in a sort of foul-tasting way 3 stars
12/07/02 ownerofdajoint astudyonhowepeopleonaresometimesdoomedfromthestartandfreewillisthetalkofrichfolks 4 stars
12/03/02 George Jung The best movie of 2002, but that's still not saying much. 5 stars
11/22/02 Merrie Wonderfully acted to a wonderful story line 5 stars
10/28/02 Yakov Friedland beautiful and mesmerizing, a dream rising from hell 5 stars
10/16/02 James Renwick Nothing great but worth seeing 3 stars
10/14/02 paperboy the road to sedation is more like it. 3 stars
10/12/02 Jens Boooooring, like "In the line of Fire". Only worse 2 stars
10/01/02 Paul Murphy Good enough film, but somwhat overated 4 stars
9/12/02 Bueller Epic. Newman is incredible. Law is disgusting. This is one of the best films of the year. 5 stars
9/02/02 Mark Struzinski GOOD STUFF!!! 5 stars
8/27/02 James Drake This movie is fucking awesome, without a doubt will win Oscar for best film. 5 stars
8/26/02 Tony Erik is a bit too much in love with his own prose to get the point of the movie. 5 stars
8/23/02 I Can't Swim No big deal. Why everyone is creamin in their pants is a mystery to me 3 stars
8/19/02 Mr. Hat (I'm Back!) The greatest camerawork ever! 4 stars
8/17/02 LyonHeart44 Darkness on the Edge of Town, transferred to film. Of course I loved it. Summer Oscars. 5 stars
8/17/02 Scott Dont bash it for not being the Godfather. A great story of revenge. Perfect camera angles 5 stars
8/11/02 Suzz exquisite film making 4 stars
8/07/02 Al Q Bobson Not the next "Godfather." It's pulpy and too tidy. Pretty, though. 4 stars
8/05/02 Christine Distinctly common -- A disappointment 3 stars
7/29/02 stoolie-bird nuttin' special....and who couldnt see that ending coming a mile away! 3 stars
7/28/02 max zhang Tom Hanks is a gangster = me as an intimidating black man 2 stars
7/25/02 Jon Not bad. But not great either 3 stars
7/23/02 Bueller Oscar nom. worthy perfromances from Hanks, Newman and Law. A darkly told Father-Son story. 5 stars
7/22/02 Cris Quite good. Cinematography was top-f'in-knotch. 5 stars
7/19/02 Kriperace Pretty, but the plot has holes big enough to throw a dog through. 3 stars
7/18/02 Dieter Multiple, flashing phone lines? Please. As boring and average as "American Beauty." 3 stars
7/16/02 Ryan E. Welshans Extrodinary, an Oscar winner no questions about it 5 stars
7/15/02 d. G. Platt I felt the film was dark, slow and lacked a lot. I think Hank could do better. 3 stars
7/15/02 ajay the actors and director made this movie. Plot could've been better 3 stars
7/15/02 John Hefner Keeps you on the edge of your seat 5 stars
7/15/02 Jimmy James wonderfully shot and acted, plot is meh 4 stars
7/14/02 The Bomb69 awesome moviemaking, loses one star because it was predictable 4 stars
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  12-Jul-2002 (R)



Directed by
  Sam Mendes

Written by
  David Self

  Tom Hanks
  Jude Law
  Paul Newman
  Stanley Tucci
  Jennifer Jason Leigh
  Tyler Hoechlin

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