You have to feel a little sorry for someone who wins the Oscar for best director with their first film. What the hell do you do next? Fortunately for us, Sam Mendes decided he wanted to adapt a graphic novel (by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner) for the screen with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, with great results. Set in Chicago, 1931, Hanks is Mike Sullivan, a hitman for crime boss, John Rooney (Newman), who treats him more like a son, much to the chagrin of his real son, Connor (Daniel Craig), who is waiting to take over the family business. After a meeting where Connor and Sullivan kill rival gangsters is witnessed by Sullivan’s eldest son (eager to find out exactly what his father does with his mysterious briefcase), Sullivan’s wife and other son are murdered and he is forced to go on the run with his surviving boy, all the while contemplating his revenge.
Road to Perdition is a beautiful film to watch, with some sumptuously composed shots, the lights and shadows playing across the screen, capturing the electrifying moments that intersperse the story. The story, while successfully capturing the trappings of the gangster genre, is actually about the nature of the relationship between father and sons, comparing and contrasting the pairings of Sullivan and his son, Rooney with Sullivan, and Rooney with his real son. This is the heart of the film, and the actors are more than capable of portraying these characters, both tough and thoughtful.
Hanks is a great tough guy, his character kept at an emotional distance from the audience for the first part of the film, as we see him through his son’s eyes, who sees a distant yet loving father. His son, Michael, played by Tyler Hoechlin, is almost a counterpart for the audience, as we get to know the world of his father through his eyes and their journey together, and is portrayed very well by the young lad. Paul Newman, still electric after all these years, brings his gravitas and nobility to the crime boss, pragmatic yet honourable in the vicious world he occupies. Jude Law is almost unrecognizable as a hitman sent after Sullivan, a wiry, dirty, ratty character oozing nastiness and danger. The film is a wonderful piece, perhaps a little slow in places as it tries a little too hard to be ‘epic’ but not to the detriment of story overall. It doesn’t rank with American Beauty, but is worthy second effort from Mendes and a gorgeously shot genre film.