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"Road to Perdition"

Directed by Sam Mendes.
Written by David Self.  Based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Raynor. 
Starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Tyler Hoechlin and Jude Law.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  7/14/02 


My roommate Laura came home Friday night and said

“Justin, if you don’t give ‘Road to Perdition’ the Opening Weekend rating, I will kill you.”

Since this was the first time in five years that I was threatened by another friend to give a film a particular rating, I was rather taken aback!  Luckily, this was one of the best movies of the year for me, by far the best studio film of 2002.

Director Sam Mendes proves that his debut film “American Beauty” was no fluke; working from a script by Max Allan Collins and Richard Rayner (who wrote the graphic novel on which the film is based), “Road to Perdition” is absolutely solid.  The plot is pretty much what you saw in the trailer.  In 1931 Chicago, hitman Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) goes out on an assignment that goes awry, and what makes it worse is that his 12-year-old son Michael (Tyler Hoechlin) witnesses the whole crime.  When Mike’s syndicate finds out what happened, syndicate boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) has to place the blame somewhere and it surely isn’t going to be on Mike’s partner Connor (Daniel Craig)...because Connor is Mr. Rooney’s son.  So, when the mob comes after the Sullivan family, Mike takes Michael on the run as they try to outwit one of Chicago’s best assassins, The Reporter (Jude Law), and re-establish Sullivan as innocent of any wrongdoing.

The plot is very straightforward and hitmen getting set up is nothing new.  But, in a classic example of “less is more”, Mendes has a film that speaks to the virtues of even the world’s most filthy bastards and that looks just superb.  The use of shadows in “Road to Perdition” is cool and cinematographer Conrad Hall (who, through doing some research, has been shooting films for almost 50 years) really puts in some amazing shots in the film, including just about my favorite scene of the year, a scene late in the film that I just can’t give away.  Needless to say, it’s cool.  But, the film is cool because when you think about it, nothing about “Road to Perdition” seems that hard—there are no long speeches that needed to be written, not many special effects shots in the film, simple locations and lots of black wardrobes.  The genius is in the details.

And, part of those details are the performances by the four leads—Hanks, Newman, Hoechlin and Law.  Newman just being in the film adds so much weight to what should be a very hackneyed character—the mob boss.  But, just Newman’s scene where he winks at the Sullivan boys early in the picture is great because of that familiar smile that Newman flashes.  Law—who doesn’t show up until almost the halfway point of the film—is scary just with his bad teeth and shabby fingernails.  When Mike and The Reporter meet for the first time, the scene is much more tense that that shoulda-been-a-classic scene from “Heat” where Pacino and De Niro squared off.  Here, Mendes creates sparks just by having the two talk about what The Reporter does for a living; you have to see it to know what I mean.  Hoechlin is that rare child actor that makes you buy into a character; more than just reading lines, he is allowed some sensitive moments to show off his range and he handles those scenes well.

But, one senses with this character that Tom Hanks really can play it all.  I will be angry if he receives an Oscar nod for this role—I don’t think he is THAT good!—but, by playing a nearly-soulless killer, one senses that he could pull off anything.  A lot of Hanks’ performance is the way he is filmed in “Road to Perdition”—with that half-tasche under his nose and that hat only revealing his killer-instinct eyes, he does look more intimidating than he ever has before.  But, he really gives this role some flavor with some light comic moments and some vengeful sequences after he realizes that he has been sold out by his former employers in the mob.  “Road to Perdition” also features some great supporting turns by Stanley Tucci and Dylan Baker.

Overall, a strong film.  We’ll see what happens come Oscar talk time at the end of the year, because this film is sure to be mentioned amongst the top films.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09