Road to Perdition



Sam Mendes : USA 2002 : 116 mins

Michael Sullivan (Hanks) is a hitman-enforcer for the Irish-American crime syndicate headed by veteran John Rooney (Paul Newman) that rules Rock Island, Illinois. It’s the winter of 1931, and Sullivan has long since replaced Rooney’s own son, hot-head Connor (Daniel Craig) in the old man’s affections. Connor, however, has been conducting some illicit, corrupt operations of his own – and when Sullivan threatens to uncover them, Connor contrives to paint the assassin as a sthreat to the operation, gunning down his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and youngest son Peter (Liam Aiken), forcing Sullivan to go on the run with his remaining child, Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin). The Rooneys, meanwhile, hire Weegee-like crime-photographer and expert killer Maguire (Jude Law) to eliminate the troublesome Sullivans.

Road To Perdition is a thoroughly professional piece of movie-making craftsmanship, featuring expert contributions both behind the camera (especially Conrad Hall’s cinematography) and in front. Hanks copes surprisingly well with what is, for him, something of a morally ambiguous role, and among a very strong supporting cast Newman is terrific in what is, reportedly, his final screen role. Paradoxically, however, the extreme level of technical accomplishment ends up working against Road To Perdition rather than for it – because the type of ‘skill’ on show from Hall and company is of a very old-fashioned, familiar kind: surely it’s time that cinematographers found other painters to emulate than Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell.

Beneath all the glossy veneer, this is really just one more stale slice of gloopy American dad-worship, told in awestruck retrospective voiceover by Michael Jr, in which Michael Sr’s status as hero is never seriously in any doubt. Mendes replaces genuine complexity and ambiguity with an ostentatious kind of solemnity, hoping that we won’t twig on to the fact that his movie is essentially a po-faced version of Miller’s Crossing, and scarcely more plausible than the Coens’ idiosyncratically larkish take on the hats-and-gats genre.

23rd September, 2002
(seen 20th, UCI MetroCentre, Gateshead)

For a more in depth look at the film click here

by Neil Young
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