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The Road to Perdition (2002) – Movie Review

The Road to Perdition movie poster

Written by: David Self, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Jennifer Jason Leigh

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

Michael Jr. (Hoechlin) doesn’t know much about what his father (Hanks) does. All he does know is that their family owes a great deal to an older gentlemen named John Rooney (Newman), who’s his dad’s boss. Sometimes dad goes out to take care of business for Mr. Rooney, and mom (Leigh) isn’t going to talk either. Finally, curiosity (you know what that leads to) gets the better of him and he learns more about his father’s occupation than he could ever possible want to…and puts his entire family in harm’s way in the process.

Welcome to Sam Mendes’ sophomore helming effort, the first being American Beauty, the best film of 1999. I approached this film with some trepidation, as other sophomore outings of recent star directors have not exactly been up to snuff (Nolan, anyone?). I shouldn’t have worried. Hanks, wanting to play something a little darker (and having stated in an interview he would have loved the Spacey role in Beauty), is a master of underplaying his hand as a professional killer. Watch him in scenes where he’s not, on the surface, doing anything. He has the part nailed–and, as always with Hanks, it’s easy to think that he’s not working at all. It just looks so effortless.

[ad#longpost]Speaking of effort, though, the two things that amaze me about this film are its duplicitous nature and its look. By its nature, I’m talking about how it has all the trappings of a gangster movie–and was even billed as a gangster movie. Granted, a gorgeous gangster movie, but still. Instead, it’s an incredibly intricate film about the relationship between fathers and sons–of all types. It’s also the best looking film of the year, Two Towers included. This is due to the masterwork of Conrad Hall, who we unfortunately lost this year–and even more unfortunately will win the Oscar because he’s dead and not because this film is the latest in a career that gets better with each outing. There are moments of such silence on the screen, that you’re forced to simply watch… watch the actors acting without words, watch the landscapes–there’s plenty to see and experience. It’s just a damn shame this marks the last time we’ll see Hall’s work on screen.

As said, Hanks is Hanks, and he’s an incredible figure on screen. Matching him, though, is Paul Newman (I fear this film’s only nomination besides Hall), as the father/crime boss who has to make a choice between a biological son and an adopted one. The pain and inevitability of his actions are powerful, and the performance is wonderfully nuanced. Jude Law is demonically creepy and should not be missed–days after watching the film, my skin was still trying to find a way to crawl off my body. And Hoechlin, although he isn’t given much to do amidst these giants, is fulfilling his purpose–and doing so admirably.

The best picture of the year thus far, it’s a shame that it will probably get lost in the Chicago/Hours upswell here at the end. Now that it’s close to being available on DVD, it’s highly recommended that you check it out. Big screen would have been preferrable, but for a film this good, do the best you can.