Road to Perdition

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 07/16/02 05:36:11

"Even when he plays a bad guy, Hanks still manages to be Mr Heart of Gold."
5 stars (Awesome)

There's three things you can count on in Hollywood; audiences will always believe a trailer that claims a sequel is 'even funnier than the first' even if the critics say otherwise, the price of popcorn will only become reasonable when you're buying 'dumpster size', and Tom Hanks will find a way, somehow, to be endearing to an audience, even when he's playing a nasty piece of work. Thankfully, with American Beauty's Sam Mendes steering the ship, Road to Perdition is more than just a chance to see America's favorite everyman being 'every-like', it's an opportunity to enjoy watching a blank canvas turned into a glorious piece of art, by cinematographers, actors, writers, and a director that, quite frankly, could turn buttered toast into a life-changing experience.

Hanks plays a hitman for a local mob boss, never entirely comfortable in his work, but feeling he owes the man who looked after him as a child when he had nobody else. Now approaching middle age, with a wife and two boys in tow, he handles his job efficiently, but not without a tinge of sadness... that is until his boy witnesses an execution and becomes a target himself. Doublecrosses, death, revenge and running ensue, portrayed beautifully by all involved.

That's not to say that Road to Perdition is a masterpiece, nor that it doesn't have issues that could have been addressed more fully. As in every film where a big star is being shot at by bad guys, Hanks seems to have a bulletproof aura around him, and without ever actually taking an evasive step, never seems to come close to being hit.

Ditto, director Mendes, who any American Beauty fan must have the ultimate respect for, does tend here to fall into the Gus Van Sant 'lingering close-up' trap an awful lot when a timely cutaway could have helped keep things moving, and for such a deliberately paced journey, the ending does seem to be a case of 'okay, let's end this fucking thing already.'

But for those few negatives, there's also an unholy amount of positives. Hanks re-earns the respect he seemed to be desperately trying to lose with such lightweight pap as You've Got Mail, and inflects emotion, pain, indecision and mental imbalance in almost every frame of the film. He never looks good, instead coming across puffy, unhealthy, sorry and scared, and that's the mark of an actor that knows that his character is more important than his rep. Forget Castaway and Forrest Gump, Hanks is back to Philadelphia form here and takes what could have been a hokey role with any other actor, and gives it depth by the boatload.

Ditto Paul Newman, who must be amongst the greatest living actors on anyone's list. Newman could have portrayed his character (Hanks' mob boss quasi-dad) as all yelling, overpowering and 'balls out' in this role if he thought typical mob boss bravado was the order of the day, but like a true master of the thespian artform, instead he plays it weak, sad, wavering and essentially slowly dying on the screen in front of us because of what he must do to the family he loves.

The big peformances don't stop there. Jude Law is incredible as a hitman with a penchant for taking happy snaps at the death scene - his eyes bulge with deliberate evil, and though he plays an easy character to hate, being as he's going after everyman and child, he's also playing a character so intriguing you almost don't want to see him leave the screen.

And let's give it up for Stanley Tucci, who I'd honestly pay $5 to watch open a box of cereal. Touché Tucci is another true actor, who can take what is essentially a bit character and make him big. Watching him stifle a laugh as Newman's wayward son says, "I'm the future," was worth the price of admission alone.

And that's where Road to Perdition's value really sits - the subtleties. Watching a tiny droplet of sweat roll down Hanks' face when he knows he's talking to the man who is about to try to kill him - the shiver in Paul Newman's voice when he tells Hanks tha all bets are off - the tear of a mobster who knows he has to try to kill Hanks but is certainly going to die in the process - seeing Hanks drive off the road into a cornfield because he's so raging with anger that he *needs* to throw his kid around and yell a little.

Sam Mendes, like P.T. Anderson and Todd Solondz, is a director that knows the value of the performer, and he gives these fine performers the opportunity to show that true acting isn't what Matthew Lillad does with an animated great dane, it's about feeling a character right down in your pancreas and giving our body, mind and soul over to them. Mendes knows, appreciates and will be evermore famous for, what Orson Welles knew, appreciated and was cast asdie by Hollywood for - that the story isn't the point, the characters are.

Road to Perdition is one of those films that you probably will never watch twice, but you must watch once. It's not history, it's not a landmark achievement, it's just a whole slew of folks, behind the camera and in front of it, showing what can be done when you pay a little attention to the details.

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