The Film: Road To Perdition (2002) Buy it on Blu-ray from CHUD!
The Principals: Sam Mendes (director), Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Dylan Baker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Liam Aiken, Ciaran Hinds, and Stanley Tucci.
The Premise: Mob enforcer Michael Sullivan’s life unravels when his eldest son witnesses what he does for a living. Untrusting of whether or not said boy can keep his mouth shut, a hit is put out on the Sullivan family. The survivors take to the road and exact their vengeance.
Is It Good? Fucking-A it is! While I don’t think I would label it a classic, it is a damn good entry in the beloved Prohibition-era gangster genre…something we don’t get as often as we should these days. Director Sam Mendes is firing on all cylinders, the cast is superb, and Thomas Newman’s score is hauntingly beautiful.
Paul Newman is brilliant as always as mob boss John Rooney. Until I sat down with this one again, I’d forgotten how much I miss him. Then still a relative newcomer, Daniel Craig is giving the task of portraying John’s jealous and violently unstable son, Connor. He absolutely nails it, selling every psychotic, murderous, and/or sniveling moment. Between his work here and in Layer Cake, it’s no wonder Barbara Broccoli zeroed in on him as a potential 007.
Also shining in his role is Jude Law as weasely hitman Maguire. One of my favorite cinematic memories from the past decade was sitting in a theater for this one opening weekend. There were two teenage girls behind my who audibly swooned whenever Law appeared on screen. That is, until he removed his hat to reveal a receding hairline and smiled his green-toothed grin. Needless to say, after a few remarks of disgust, they were silent the rest of the running time and whining about how they made their favorite hottie “ugly” on the way out of the theater. Law gives a deliciously sleazeball performance here that is usually forgotten whenever the actor is brought up in discussion.
That leaves us with our two leads: Tyler Hoechlin and Tom Hanks. Hoechlin was a great find for the production and holds his own quite well in a cast littered with professionals. This goes double for Hanks, whom he spends most of his screentime with. Pairing a child actor with a seasoned professional is always a risky prospect. You always run the risk of actors having no chemistry with one another, but this is generally amplified when it comes to this particular type of pairing. Lucky for Mendes & co., they don’t have that problem here.
A decade ago I would have told anyone who said “Tom Hanks is underrated” that they were crazy. Not because he is overpraised, but because he was still sitting at the top of the A-list at the time. While he is still sought after these days, Hanks has spent more time producing than acting for the past seven years or so. Between that and picking random odd (but interesting) roles, I think he is probably undervalued these days. The man had a fantastic hot streak from the late ’80s through the early ’00s with very few disappointments in-between.
Maybe it’s due to his lessened visibility or the bland Dan Brown adaptations, but even I had forgotten how great Hanks can be until Cloud Atlas hit screens. He is electrifying in that film and he is just as great here, albeit in a more subdued performance. Michael Sullivan is a shell of a man whose last humanity lies with his family. Once part of that is removed, he seems on the verge of losing what is left of his soul. He doesn’t, however, due to the efforts of his estranged eldest boy. The two bond on their journey and though the ending is not a happy one, Sullivan is once again made whole. And Hanks, the great actor that he is, sells every moment of his redemption.
Is It Worth A Look? Definitely. It’s a wonderful take on a classic genre that, while not groundbreaking, is masterful in its simplicity. Between that, the cast, and the score, Road To Perdition is well worth your time if the chance to sit down with it arises.
Random Anecdotes: Anthony LaPaglia shot one scene as Al Capone. Mendes later cut it from the film before release because he felt Capone was a more intimidating presence if left unseen. As a consolation, LaPaglia is listed first in the “Special Thanks” section of the end credits. You can view this sequence on the DVD & Blu-ray releases.
This was Paul Newman’s final on-screen theatrical performance.
The film is based on a graphic novel. The comic itself has had two sequel series, as well as two follow-up novels based on the further adventures of Michael Sullivan Jr.
Cinematic Soulmates: Leon, Miller’s Crossing, Once Upon A Time In America, and the Lone Wolf and Cub series.