Saturday 29 February 2020

Movie Review: Road To Perdition (2002)

A gritty gangster drama, Road To Perdition is a visually stunning story of redemption, revenge and fatherhood.

In rural Illinois of 1931, Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) works as a mob enforcer for local Al Capone affiliate John Rooney (Paul Newman). He keeps the details of his work private and is aloof towards his family, including wife Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two sons Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) and Peter. Rooney treats Michael likes a son, much to the resentment of his unstable real son Connor (Daniel Craig).

When the curious Michael Jr. witnesses the killing of one of Rooney's rivals, Connor decides to wipe out the entire Sullivan family. Michael flees to Chicago with Jr. and connects with Capone's second-in-command Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci), offering his services in exchange for being allowed to hunt down Conner. But Rooney stands by his real son, placing Connor in hiding and reluctantly unleashing hired killer and crime photographer Harlen Maguire (Jude Law) to finish off the Sullivans.

A richly textured exploration of mobster life focusing on the sins of the father, Road To Perdition is a lyrical ode to generational change among career criminals. The graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner is translated to the screen by director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, and the film's rich style adds a captivating dimension, at once emphasizing emotional resonance and evoking a bygone era.

The film adopts the perspective of Michael Jr. remembering a seminal six weeks on the run with his father, the only time he got to know his dad. Previously Michael was a cold and distant figure involved in shadowy and undefined business for Mr. Rooney. When Jr. surreptitiously snoops into the business of adults, suddenly the reality of his father's murderous assignments comes into relief and the two are forced together just to survive. A lifetime of bonding is compressed into one road trip, and Jr. finally penetrates his father's veneer and by extension learns about himself.

Multiple father-son dynamics nurture the film's layered background. Rooney treats Michael as a son, and Mendes uses one scene at the piano to expressively colour-in the strength of their connection. But this is at the expense of Connor, slightly psychotic but fully aware that Michael has displaced him and occupies pride of place in Rooney's emotional bank.

However, Connor holds the trump card of bloodline and status as natural successor to his father's empire, and is quick to seize the opportunity to eliminate the Sullivan threat, forcing Rooney into the ultimate unwanted dilemma of having to choose between his biological and chosen sons.

The sprawling drama unfolds in a compact format at under two hours, and screenwriter David Self respects the visual essence of the source material by economizing on dialogue. The action scenes are plentiful, sharp and exquisitely staged. Thomas Newman's music complements Hall's cinematography to create masterpiece arrangements, the framing, compositions and lighting often breathtaking. Water is a frequent theme, whether through rain, melting ice or in bathtubs, reflecting the inherent fluidity of mobster life.

In one of his most unique performances Tom Hanks finds a much more dangerous screen presence while maintaining his core humanity. Hanks thrives in defining Michael's separated duality as a killer and family man, and convincingly fills the yawning gap of fatherhood with compassionate yet steely determination to protect his son. Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci and Jude Law form a dazzling supporting cast.

A pathway to retribution, atonement, and awakening, Road To Perdition offers a sublime journey.

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