Main cast: Tom Hanks (Michael Sullivan), Paul Newman (John Rooney), Jude Law (Maguire), Tyler Hoechlin (Michael Sullivan Jr), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Annie Sullivan), Stanley Tucci (Frank Nitti), Daniel Craig (Connor Rooney), Liam Aiken (Peter Sullivan), Dylan Baker (Alexander Rance), and Ciarán Hinds (Finn McGovern)
Director: Sam Mendes
This movie is beautiful. When your brains get blown out in Road to Perdition, it splatters on the wall in a tasteful and even visually delightful Picassian fresco-like motive. Your blood flows in the right direction, making you look as if you are the new Japanese flag, and even better, when sixteen bullets are ripping through your guts, your flailing actions make the Swan Lake troupe look like heavily-pregnant asthmatic hippos hijacking a ballet.
Too bad this movie is all fluff and no substance. The joke – on them, that is – is that Tom Hanks and company, including Sam Mendes, believe that just because this is a Dreamworks movie, they are doing a great masterpiece. I won’t be surprised if this one gets an Oscar nomination, as it’s pretty and fluffy enough to fit the criteria, but the final and obligatory “by the beach, in the sun, with a dog” wishy-wa-wa scenes seal it for me: eurgh.
This is the story of a gentleman assassin in the 1930s, Michael Sullivan, who lives life nice and well as the favorite of his crime boss John Rooney. However, one day his son stows away at the back of the car Daddy and company are in, and witnesses a murder. His boss has Michael’s wife and his other son Peter killed, and now Michaels Senior and Junior are on the run. On their tail is an assassin, played by Jude Law who appears in this movie for only, oh, ten minutes?
Michael Junior is played pretty well by Tyler Hoechlin. He doesn’t grate, and he seems a natural on screen. Tom Hanks doesn’t have much to do except to put on a stoic face, while Jude Law’s character is interesting but doesn’t have enough screen time to make any impact. Stanley Tucci is wasted. Only Paul Newman displays any depths in his role as a crime boss torn between his son and Michael Senior, and he outshines Mr Hanks in every scene they share.
While this movie tries to infuse itself with some throwaway father-son bonding, it is more successful in evoking the nobility of the flawed gangster hero, ie the stuff romantic Depression-era mob noir is made of. Alas, even that is tainted by this movie trying to take itself so seriously that it projects ersatzism from every scene. It is hard to imagine that the Depression is this pretty, bathed in blinding illumination, or that death is so sweet and neat. This movie doesn’t even want to try to present Michael Senior in any ambiguity. He is presented as an absolute right here, despite what the last sentence uttered in this movie claims otherwise. Nobody even dislikes him in this movie! Hence there is also an annoying condescension in this movie. It wants me to love it unconditionally for being great, but it doesn’t want to give me any chance to form any contrary opinion.
Mind you, I do find Road to Perdition entertaining despite everything – the story is essentially a fun one. But I have this feeling that the graphic novel from which this movie is adapted from is a more fun affair. It can’t take itself any more seriously than this movie did.