"When people ask me if he was a decent man, or if there was no good in him at all, I don't answer. I just tell them, he was my father."
Some of the fathers are aloof and distant from their sons. They may be preoccupied with work or just the kind who is unable or unwilling to open up emotionally. As a result, far too many sons desperately yearn for some kind of connection, any kind of connection with their fathers. 'Road To Perdition' is about a father and son connection that takes place over a six-week period in 1931 when Prohibition was in effect, in USA. The father is a cold-blooded hit man.
Murder is a cold and senseless act. Those who make it their life must by necessity be hard and brutal men. Road to Perdition never flinches away from that, but somehow, in the emotionally empty lives of mafia killers, finds warmth, depth, and soul.
PlotThe setting is 1931 in Chicago. Michael Sullivan(Tom Hanks) is the number one hit man of suburban boss John Rooney (Paul Newman), who has treated Sullivan as a son since he took in the orphaned boy. In fact, Sullivan's relationship with Rooney is so close that the gangster's natural-born son, Connor (Daniel Craig), simmers with jealousy.
Sullivan's wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) knows enough about his profession to not ask any questions, while his sons believe Dad and Mr. Rooney are impressive businessmen. It's on one of Michael's more ill-fated assignment that Mike Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) decides to stow away in the car - and find out the truth about his father's late-night trips. Following a messy murder, Sullivan is betrayed by the man he called father, John Rooney. Leaving behind a murdered family and with a killer on his tail, Sullivan goes on the run with his son, hungry for revenge.
AnalysisThe biggest joy you'll have sitting through Road to Perdition comes simply by watching great actors act. It's a joy to see Hanks portraying something a bit darker than usual. Even though, Tom Hanks is playing a bad guy, he's a good guy. David Self's screenplay for "Road to Perdition" sees to that. The movie is far less violent than the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner on which Self based the script.
Paul Newman gives a electrifying performance. Covering Rooney in dead eyes and a soft smile, his merging of the jovial grandfather with flints of absolute darkness is a performance that chimes with Marlon Brandon's Don Corleone. His is the crowning speech, that says: 'This is the life we chose... And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see heaven'. The supporting cast is no less impressive, with Jude Law as a joyously colorful standout. He plays one of the most eccentric hit-men ever to grace the screen.
In many ways, the real star of the movie is Tyler Hoechlin, who plays 12 year-old Michael Sullivan Jr. , is in his first major role, gives a convincing portrayal of a young man who both idolizes and fears his father. If a viewer develops an emotional attachment to any character, it's likely to be to Hoechlin's. As Rooney's maniacal son Connor, Daniel Craig delivers an intense, glowering, and altogether spooky character.
Soaked in rain, snow, and beautifully framed shots of an interminably gray world, Road to Perdition avoids the simplistic and easy sidetracks taken by so many other modern films. Sam Mendes stays the course and keeps us questioning the morality of the man. In an era when a rapid-cutting, Mendes has created a film of exquisite tracking shots and long takes and deep space. His deployment of violence is excellent, as he focuses primarily not on the act itself, but the consequences of those acts. Road to Perdition is a bloody movie, with shotguns and tommy guns and ambushes and assassinations, but Mendes is always primarily focused on how these gory events affect those who are pulling the trigger and those who are witness.
To some extent, Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall is as big a star as any of the actors, since there are occasions when the setting overwhelms the characters. He makes every scene in Road to Perdition a work of art. When Rooney and Sullivan finally cross swords, Mendes and Hall pulls out a moment of transcendent cinema: a speechless sequence washed in the film's signature downpour, lit to throw Tommy guns and fedoras into stark silhouettes - you watch agape as simple celluloid transforms into poetry.
The easy criticism of the film is that it romanticizes and even glorifies a ruthless killer. As though that were something new. This movie is not about a mob hit man. The hit man's relationship with his son forms the nucleus of the film. What could have been simply another violent gangster picture with sentimental overtones, Mendes turns into a lyrical vision of love and loyalty and bonding.
Road to Perdition is a weighty, thoughtful, and brazenly creative film, anchored by strong performances. Serious movie-goers will find that Road to Perdition leads to a satisfying destination.