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Movie Reviews

Road To Perdition



Released: September 27th 2002

Directed By: Sam Mendes

Starring: Tom Hanks, Rob Maxey

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Patrick Campbell

The thing that first strikes you after you’ve watched ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002) is that it is only Sam Mendes’s second film, an extraordinary feat when considering its breath-taking cinematography and stylish form. Taking into account it followed his debut picture ‘American Beauty’ (1999), it can be argued that no director has made such a substantial impact with his first two films as Mendes has since Quentin Tarantino. Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, an enforcer for the local Mafioso boss John Rooney, played by Paul Newman in his last on-screen movie performance.

It is 1930s Chicago and it is mob rule so guns are common, but Sullivan’s two young sons are confused as to why their father owns one and tends to disappear after dinner under the cloak of the night sky. Sullivan’s elder son Michael Jr. decides to investigate, a decision based on youthful recklessness and impulse which sets off an unfortunate chain of events that leads to Sullivan taking his son and fleeing Rooney’s organisation that had used him but also protected him for so long. Before the first half of the movie has been played out, the key character relationships that hold the film together have been established, and they all revolve around the father/son theme which is regrettably all too common in gangster movies, even if Rooney and Sullivan are not biologically related.

The title of the movie is a clever touch, heavy with foreboding. In a literal sense, Sullivan seeks refuge in Perdition, Michigan – alas not a real town – but it is the implied meaning of the word which speaks volumes and makes the audience feel uneasy. “Perdition”, taken from Christian theology, is the sinful state of eternal damnation a soul passes into after death. As Rooney remarks to Sullivan: “There are only murderers in this room, Michael. Open your eyes. This is the life we chose…and there is only one guarantee – none of us will see heaven.” The conversation between the two is the best scene in the movie.

‘Road to Perdition’ does many things very well. The cinematography is outstanding, a genuine triumph which landed Conrad L Hall the Oscar which was sadly awarded to him posthumously. It is to his credit that every scene in the film is bleak, cold and distant, yet so beautiful and memorable. The acting is excellent – particularly from Newman, who is surprisingly convincing as the elderly criminal boss who is forced to wrestle with his morals – and the musical score is dramatic and poignant. The religious symbolism is very strong throughout, an appropriate and deft technique taken to highlight the Chicago of the time which was awash with Irish Catholic immigrants. Rooney is also portrayed as a religious man – he’s seen taking Mass in the film, and this side of his character creates a nice juxtaposition with the violence and criminality he controls. The production levels throughout the movie are also very high. For a cinema lover who admires beautifully made films, ‘Road to Perdition’ is a must watch.

Sadly however, ‘Road to Perdition’ cannot be called a great film. It is let down by its plot, which is frustratingly slow paced and thoroughly predictable. On one hand, the ending does fit well with the film’s dark and tragic nature, and perhaps is to be expected, but the torturous wait for the film to drag its way to the inevitable outcome is disappointing. Even the mild “twist” at the climax can be seen a mile off. Nevertheless, the film has enough qualities to ensure that it is certainly one to watch, qualities very much befitting of the final film of Paul Newman’s magnificent career.

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