Road to Perdition (DVD, 2003, DTS Widescreen) Reviews
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Road to Perdition (DVD, 2003, DTS Widescreen)

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When you Stare Into an Abyss: Road to Perdition

Aug 20, 2003 (Updated Aug 20, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Acting, Cinematography, Score

Cons:Story and Storytelling by Director Mendes

The Bottom Line: The Road to Perdition starts out promisingly enough, unfortunately the promise is never realized to the extent that the filmmakers promised.


When you stare into an abyss, the abyss stares also into you. Friedrich Nietzsche

The latest in a long line of Hollywood tributes to the American gangster, Sam Mendes makes a memorable, if slow, excursion on the broad road traveled by veteran actors Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

Restricting his palette largely to somber grays, blues, browns - punctuated by inky shadows in the rain drenched landscapes of the 1930s Midwest - Director Mendes (American Beauty) has rolled a winner in the story of erstwhile hitman Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) on the run from a kill crazy gunsel likely based on real life killer Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll.

The killer is named Maguire (Jude Law) and besides being a cold blooded murderer, he has the unusual sideline of photographing his victims and selling the pictures to the local newspapers! We are introduced to this fellow as he pays one of Chicago’s finest to look the other way while he shoots a corpse, probably one of his own victims. A look of annoyance flashes across his brow as he realizes the body is still breathing. In an instant, he coldly smothers the life out of the victim, masked by the sound of an ell train speeding by.

Maguire is hounding Sullivan whose son inadvertently witnessed a murder committed by his father and Connor Rooney (kingpin Paul Newman’s son). The chase plot is actually a vehicle for exploring the relationship between fathers and sons and Hanks does a good job of playing a painfully repressed man who has never had the ability to relate to his twelve year-old until they are thrown together during the six week chase. As the days pass, Hanks shows a vulnerability and need to open up to his son. The breakthrough finally happens after Hanks is wounded and tended by the boy along with a kindly farm couple.

“There are only murderers in this room... None of us will see heaven.” is Paul Newman’s retort when confronted by Hanks about the botched killing that resulted in the death of his wife and younger son. In a poetic scene right out of Peckinpah, Hanks takes revenge on Newman surrounded by a passel of gangsters who dance a ballet of death to the tune of his Thompson submachine gun. Accompanying the strangely silent gunplay is the hauntingly beautiful score by Thomas Newman and the ever-present Chicago rain.

“Perdition” is actually a place mentioned in the movie and where The Road to Perdition jumps the tracks is in the vacuous storyline. With the spiffy eye for scene setting by Mendez, impeccable Conrad Hall cinematography, and already mentioned Thomas Newman score, combined with the heavy-hitting talent of Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, and Jude Law it is just a shame that the story is so empty, pedestrian, and, yes, lame. But unfortunately, the film turns out to be less than the sum of its admittedly premium parts: Mendez chose to tell the story from the 12 year-old’s viewpoint a la Shane, however, instead of an inspiring masterpiece like Shane he ended up with more of a Billy Bathgate - another gangster movie that could have been great but faltered by emphasizing an uninteresting kid more than the truly interesting Dutch Schultz and crew.

So where does The Road to Perdition end? As a particularly huge fan of the genre, I give it three stars, however I would certainly recommend almost anything starring James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Muni, or Al Pacino before this if you haven’t seen theirs yet. Check out Mobsters, a wonderfully made (and woefully underappreciated) 1980’s version of the Charley “Lucky” Luciano story, the man who forged the most successful crime empire in history - the Commission.

Happy viewing!


Recommend this product? Yes

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