There are many things which define the strength of a film. Anything can go wrong. Beware the pitfalls of an overbearing score or a weakly scripted narrative. Fear the pain of a talentless cast or an under-funded budget. Even if all the necessary tools are given, it can all still fall apart if your director who has no idea how to utilize them.
Road to Perdition suffers none of these things.
In fact, it could be said that Road to Perdition may be the most marvelous specimen of filmmaking ever laid down, the most conceptually perfect meshing of writing, acting, directing, cinematography, and scoring ever placed on film. It could be a movie that it will be remembered along with classics like Citizen Kane or Casablanca. Personally, I don’t think even those comparisons are strong enough to capture the accomplishments of this film.
In Road to Perdition, Director Sam Mendes artfully tells the story of Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks), an Irish mob enforcer working for mob boss John Rooney(Paul Newman) in the early 1930s. Rooney loves Sullivan as a son and in fact appears to love Sullivan more then his own flesh and blood Connor (Daniel Craig), the slimy heir to Rooney’s organization. Sullivan’s 12 year old son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), hides in his father’s car one night, to find the truth about what his father does. By mistake, he sees what he isn’t supposed to when he watches a late night “meeting” go badly. His wife and youngest son slaughtered in retribution, Sullivan and his son find themselves on the run, trying to escape and exact revenge on the very mob establishment that had supported them for so long.
Don’t take that brief synopsis to mean this is solely a gangster film. Rather, Perdition is a wonderful blending of gangster film, buddy movie, and coming of age story all wrapped up neatly and presented beautifully by Mendes and cinematographer Conrad Hall. Done artistically enough to avoid the massive amounts of blood and gore you might see in other gangster movies, it still remains coldly realistically enough to add punch to the message that these are not nice people.
Everyone in this film pulls their own weight. Mendes and Hall make sure their camera captures touching moments such as the love Hanks’ and Newman’s characters show by playing a simple piano duet, or in the cold separation between Sullivan and his son as they start to get to know one another. Hanks and Newman lead an extremely talented cast, all capturing their characters perfectly, from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s all too short performance as Sullivan’s wife, to Stanley Tucci’s cold businessman portrayal of Frank Nitti, to Jude Law’s chilling turn as Maguire “the reporter”, a hitman brought in to deal with Sullivan. Writer David Self masterfully adapts Max Allen Collins’ and Richard Piers Rayner’s graphic novel for the screen, giving characters wonderful and heartfelt dialogue while injecting just the right mix of humor into this sorrowful tale. To top it off, Thomas Newman’s work beautifully underlines the film with a score that movie theme lovers everywhere will rush to purchase after only hearing the opening credits. Truly this film is a sum of all its parts, and each part is excellence.
One hopes that Road to Perdition will not be forgotten on the long road to the Oscars, a road that typically starts months later then its July release. Masterpieces like this don’t come often enough, but Perdition certainly raises expectations for the future of filmmaking.