Road to Perdition (2002) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 117 min.

Cast: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dylan Baker, Stanley Tucci
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: David Self (based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner)
Review published July 14, 2002

Road to Perdition 2002Following up an Academy Award winner isn't an easy thing to do as a director, as the expectation level rises immensely. This is even more true when that Oscar-winner is also your first directorial effort, as was the case with Sam Mendes' American Beauty, in addition for garnering Best Director as well. However, even though Road to Perdition may not have the impact that American Beauty had, it is still filled with many great moments, and if anything showcases how truly talented a director Mendes really is. Perhaps at the hands of a lesser talent, Road to Perdition could have very well been pedestrian fare, but it's far from that. Although I felt it ultimately falls short, it is a film that often flirts with greatness, injected with memorable scenes that showcase the power of storytelling, the best of which occur without aid of words or dictation from the script.

The film is based on a Max Allan Collins graphic novel (in other words, lengthy comic book), casting Tom Hanks (Cast Away, The Green Mile) in the lead role of Michael Sullivan, a 1930s hitman, husband, and father of two young boys. On one of his outings, Connor (Craig, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), the son of his boss John (Newman, Message in a Bottle), kills a man they are to question in cold blood, and unknown to Michael, one of his sons has come along for the ride to witness the events. Although told not to relate what he saw to anyone, Connor decides to off Michael and son just to be sure, but only ends up killing Michael's wife and other young son. Michael and son must evacuate the area, but seek revenge on the man that took their life and loved ones, but Connor is under the protection of John and gang. Meanwhile, another hitman is hired to put a stop to Michael in the form of Maguire (Law, A.I.), a sadistic killer with a fetish for photographing his kills.

You already know what to expect from Hanks and Newman, and of course they deliver the Oscar-worthy performances they have made great careers out of. Thomas Newman (The Salton Sea, Pay It Forward) is back, who also worked on the score from Mendes' American Beauty, and his music is another incredible piece of work, perfectly accentuating each scene, and providing emotional depth that is vitally important for a movie of this scope. David Self, who showed great stuff as the screenwriter of Thirteen Days, does more good work with the characterizations and in setting up the events. However, with all of the fine points already in place, Road to Perdition still could not be the quality piece of cinema that it is without the ingeniousness of the direction, with images so vivid they linger long after having viewed them.

Road to Perdition is a solidly good film which should please fans of gangster films, crime dramas, period pieces of the 1930s, and of the stars. Although the plot and writing aren't anything we haven't seen before, points are still gained in the presentation. Good characters, an interesting story, and the aforementioned direction make this one road well worth traveling.

Qwipster's rating:  

©2002 Vince Leo