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Watch out for the Pot-Holes on The Road to Perdition.

Apr 16, 2003 (Updated Jan 4, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Paul Newman and Tom Hanks.

Cons:Much too predictable.

The Bottom Line: The Road to Perdition is good, very good in fact. Yet, I felt nothing when it was over.


Tom Hanks could probably do a commercial for hemorrhoids and I would be anxious to see it. In my book he is numero-uno, the absolute best. His name alone inspires me to watch a film, whether he is credited as an actor, producer or director. This weekend I saw that The Road to Perdition was listed on one of the Pay-Per-View channels. My big chance to finally see this film that I had so anxiously awaited had come. Despite some of the more negative things that I had read, my undying devotion to Mr. Hanks had my palms sweating and my heart racing. The reviews had to be wrong! And they were wrong, but they were also right.

The film was given such high acclaim, so maybe I expected more than what was delivered. The settings of the Depression/Prohibition era looked so authentic....all the way down to the carbon lamps on the vintage cars, which filled complete blocks. The costuming was excellent, with the wide-lapelled suits, overcoats and fedoras. In one of the scenes that reflected the hustle and bustle on the streets of Chicago, all you could see was an ocean of hats. In those days you were not dressed unless you were wearing a hat, both men and women. The musical score blended in, rising and falling in just the right place. Everything seemed so right, so perfect. But there was still something missing for me.

For some reason there was a lack of an emotional connection with the characters. The performances by both Mr. Newman and Mr. Hanks were exceptional, as they always are. These are 2 of the finest actors that the film industry has ever known. Apparently the director, Sam Mendes, was more concerned with the photography, the music and the authenticity of the period than he was with making the characters memorable. When I watch a film I want to feel something, anything for the characters. This film did not involve me on any emotional level. There was nothing here that seemed to be new or fresh. It was the same gangster movie that we've all seen before, just with extraordinary cinematography.

When I truly enjoy a movie, I'll think about it for hours afterwards, sometimes days or even years. As the final credits of "Road to Perdition" rolled by, all I thought about was the grass that needed to be cut in the backyard.



The Plot

The story is set in the winter of 1931. Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a cold-blooded, ruthless hit-man that is more or less a surrogate son and employee to the patriarch of the local Irish mob, John Rooney (Paul Newman). Mike Sullivan is also a family man. He and his wife, Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and 2 sons live in a beautiful home with shining floors, covered with scatter rugs. They appear to be a typical American family. The boys, Michael, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) and Peter (Liam Aiken) engage in snowball fights and sleep in the same room.

It is at the funeral of a "co-worker" of Mikes' that we begin to see the power of John Rooney. When the drunken brother of the deceased is asked to give a toast and proceeds to get a bit "verbal", he is quickly escorted from the room. John orders Mike and his son, Connor (Daniel Craig), to have a "talk" with this man the next day...just "talk".

Later that evening the boys are in bed. Michael Jr. is reading a book by flashlight about the Lone Ranger (a character, by the way, that will not be created until 1933, 2 years after this story is set, and then only for radio) when Peter wants to talk about their father. He wants to know why their Dad takes a gun to work. Michael tells him that their Dad "goes on missions for Mr. Rooney, very dangerous missions". Realizing that his answer was a vague one, Michael decides to do a little digging.

The next night, hiding under the backseat in his Fathers' car, Michael goes along for quite a ride. He witnesses, while peering under the door of a huge warehouse, his Father and Connor "talking" with the man from the evening before. A talk that ends, as all gangster "talks" do, in an ugly blood-bath. Shocked, Michael makes noises as he tries to run away. He is discovered, of course, and his actions set into play the remainder of the story.

The Sullivans have become dangerous to the Rooney family. Mike is sent on an assignment to deliver a message to a seedy fellow that has an office in a basement that can only be reached after going through a filthy bar, and then a bordello. This meeting results in another shoot-out and Mike can see the words that the message contained, Kill Sullivan and all debts are paid. Fearing for his family, Mike races home. Michael gets there moments before his Father when he hears gunshots. Hiding in the shadows, he sees Connor leave the house. Upstairs they find the dead bodies of Annie and Peter. Packing a few things, Mike and Michael are now on the run.

The story progresses as a hit-man, Harlen Maguire (Jude Law), follows their path. The character of Maguire is based on Arthur Fellig, a photographer who was licensed to possess a scanner radio. He was able to get to crime scenes before the police showed up. Tabloid newspapers would buy his pictures. Some of the photos in Maguire's apartment are the real 1930s crime scene photos taken by Fellig. Harlen Maguire is almost comedic at times and is the one character that makes the movie a bit unique.

I would like to stop right here before I give too much away. There is much more to the story before all is said and done. An interesting conversation in a roadside diner, Mikes' meeting with another gang leader, Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci), to enlist his help, an "extended vacation" with a farm couple, and a final confrontation that could make you smile and say "Cheese".


Credits
Producer/Director - Sam Mendes brought American Beauty (1999) to us, winning numerous awards for this achievement. He appears to have a very promising future.
Cinematographer - Conrad L. Hall, the son of writer James Norman Hall, author of "Mutiny on the Bounty", has worked on several previous films with Paul Newman. His awards must wallpaper his den, he has won so many of them, and quite deservedly.
Music - Thomas Newman was nominated for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score in this film. His previous Oscar nominations for Original Score include a favorite film of mine, The Shawshank Redemption (1994).
Art Direction/Set Decoration - Dennis Gassner (art director) and Nancy Haigh (set decorator) won the Oscar for their work together on Bugsy (1991) in 1992. They were nominated in 2003 for their work on this film. They obviously make a very good team.

Cast
John Rooney - Paul Newman has to only look at you with those blue eyes to make your knees quiver. He is a screen legend, a superstar and still one handsome devil at 78 years old. Although his career began many years earlier (I'm much too young to remember it clearly.... 8-) ...ok, you can stop laughing now), the first time he caught my eye was in Cool Hand Luke (1967). Two years later, there he was again as Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), jumping off cliffs and making bedroom eyes at Katherine Ross. He has entertained us for over 5 decades with his talent and his charm.

Mike Sullivan - Tom Hanks, ahhhh, Tom Hanks. He has touched our hearts in so many ways over the years. From his earliest days as Kip, aka Buffy, in the television sitcom Bosom Buddies, to the little boy grown up in Big (1988), to the man that every woman wanted to meet in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), to the very lovable and touching Forrest in Forrest Gump (1994). He can bring each character to life and make them feel like a part of your family. He is truly an extraordinary man in my book.

Harlen Maguire - Jude Law plays the bad guy, henchman, photographer very well in this film. It was quite a switch from the character of dancing, fun-loving Gigolo Joe in Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001).

Michael Sullivan, Jr - Tyler Hoechlin is a fine young actor. With only 2 other films to his credits, this one should open a real door of opportunity for him.

Conner Rooney - Daniel Craig was born in England and played the role of John Ballard in Elizabeth (1998). In "Road to Perdition" his penetrating eyes made his role of cold-blooded killer quite convincing.

Frank Nitti - Stanley Tucci plays a member of the Mafia very well. In this film he is clearly a top-knotch Godfather-Wanna-Be. He is such a damned-good gangster that he even has a waiting room for his hoodlums! The role that I personally enjoyed watching him in the most, though, was the one he played in It Could Happen to You (1994) as Eddie, the impossible-to-get-rid-of ex-husband.

Annie Sullivan - Jennifer Jason Leigh would have been missed if you blinked. Her character was cut short and given few lines. She's a wonderful actress and it was disappointing to see so little of her in this film. Some of her more memorable roles have been that of Hedy in Single White Female (1992), the daughter, Selena in Dolores Claiborne (1995) and the emotionally charged Annie in Bastard Out of Carolina (1996).

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Final Thoughts


Even though the ending of this film can be seen coming a mile away, and it would not rank anywhere near the top of my favorite Tom Hanks' films, I am still giving it a "yes" recommendation. The period costumes and settings are excellent. It either won or was nominated for many awards. It's worth watching, just don't expect any surprises. Both Bobby and Skeeter were snoring before it was all over....well, Bobby was snoring, anyway. Skeeter was just chasing cats in his sleep, with his little legs justa' running like crazy. Hmmmmm, maybe he was watching the movie just a little more closely than I realized...




Recommend this product? Yes

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