Road to Perdition is one of the few films that tries to recreate the film noir genre, while basking in the modern light. Its use of light, shadow, and water can all be classified as stylistic, and its cinematography could also get it elected into a genre so admirable. The film follows Michael Sullivan Sr. (Hanks), a hit man working for an Irish Mob boss (Newman) in 1930's Illinois. Sullivan has a loving wife (Leigh) and two plucky kids Peter (Aiken) and Michael Jr. (Hoechlin), yet tries to keep his sons oblivious to his involvement in the mobster lifestyle.
One day, Michael Jr. sneaks out to see his father and a mentally unstable mob member Connor (Craig) murder a man in a warehouse. Despite assuring Jr. won't tell anyone, Connor goes to Sullivan's house late one night and kills his wife and his youngest son Peter, mistaking him for Jr. While Sullivan and Jr. flee to Chicago, it isn't long before Sullivan's former mob boss sends an assassin (Law) to track him down and kill him. The film becomes a relentless journey of trying to leave behind an old lifestyle and start a brand new one through a child.
What must be lauded is the use of dark and grim cinematography; the last work of Conrad L. Hall who died shortly after the film was completed. When the film is dark, it is still beautifully lit by source lighting and little intricate elements such as headlights and streetlights. From what I've seen of the graphic novel, written by Max Allan Collins, it was, like the film, ominous, dark, and very, very serene.
Road to Perdition also has a great amount of symbolism, which I favor over ambiguity any day. One of its biggest motifs is in the use of water and rain. The event is woven in when death comes up in the film, sort of commenting on the randomness of humanity and the fact that death, like rain, is instantaneous and sometimes virtually unpredictable. Rather than being blatant, it's woven in the film so naturally and subtly you may miss it.
Hanks gives an electrifying performance as a stressed father, focused on achieving redemption through his son. He believes that the sins he committed are unforgivable and irredeemable. All his life he has been involved with complex underground operations, contentious relationships, and secrecy from his loved-ones. He feels he hasn't been a proper father, and believes his son can do way better. On a little side-note, the acting from both Tyler Hoechlin and Jude Law is excellent as well, and audiences should pay attention to little side performances that will likely go unnoticed because of a lot of enigma on screen.
This is a cold, bittersweet film for much of its runtime. It's hard to watch and difficult to recommend. It doesn't strive to be so much a gritty, honest mobster tale as it does try to be a parable of father and son relationships and a tragic take on innocence lost. I think many will agree that Road to Perdition is a pretty shameless Hollywood film. From voiceovers, to big name stars, to cinematography, to storytelling, to the hefty budget, to morals, writing, and tone, it's all the components of a straight-forward Hollywood tale. That's not a bad thing. I, for one, would rather see a big budget Hollywood epic than a poorly done, incompetent indie work. It isn't until that indie work has proved itself to be more than meets the eye will I choose it over a Hollywood epic.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Liam Aiken, and Tyler Hoechlin. Directed by: Sam Mendes.
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