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Road To Perdition
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Road To Perdition Review

Directed By: Sam Mendes.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Synopsis: Mark this one on your calendar folks, this will be something you won't want to miss. Sam Mendes follows up his stunning debut (American Beauty) with this Depression-era Chicago tale. Tom Hanks plays a hit man Michael O'Sullivan who is known to friends and enemies alike as the "Angel of Death". Uncompromising in his work, O'Sullivan is just as devoted to his private life as an upstanding husband and father of two young boys. But when those worlds collide, taking the lives of his wife and younger son, O'Sullivan and his surviving son leave their sedate home life behind and embark on a startling journey of revenge. A change of pace for Hanks and maybe something to shut all those people up about how overhyped he is...he is the James Stewart of our times and should be praised now...not later. Okay, enough of the ranting.

Review: This is one of the most gorgeous looking movies I have seen in the last 20, maybe 30 years. One could pull a frame of film from so many moments and hang it on a wall as if it were an Alex Colville painting. It also has some fantastic scenes, scenes that will not be dragged from my memory any day soon, and as far as as acting goes, some of the best I have seen all year. And it's a HUGE step forward for Mendes as a director which is no small feat as he was the man behind American Beauty.

But...

Something is missing from the film. Some sort of emotional core. I can't quite put my finger on it. It's not as if I don't care about Michael Sullivan (Hanks) and his son...but there is something missing from this film, for after all the beauty of the film itself, and the moments between Hanks and Newman...it still left me a little cold. A little wanting.
I have two theories as to why this could be...
1. The Train Track story problem. Once the first murders take place we are stuck on a singular course that really isn't going to end well for anyone...it's inevitable.
and 2. I'll hit on this a little later, but when both sides have cold-hearted killers, even if one of them is Tom Hanks with a kid...well, it's hard to pick a side to support as you know (going back to theory 1) that all bad guys must inevitably pay for their sins.

However, having said that, I still think this is one of the finest films to be released so far in 2002 and that film students should be watching scenes for years to come.
It blatantly shows how powerful the simple things can be. Take the prattling machine gun sound out of a gun fight and see just how violent it can be with only music to accompany it.
Then scriptwriters take note, follow that violence with a simple, bare bone truthful line and watch the implications. Paul Newman gets to deliver this line and he delivers it so simply and yet the moment speaks volumes. You'll know what I mean when you see the scene.

I have often read that John Woo brought ballet to violence in his films...well then if that can be said of Woo's films...Mendes has brought Shakespeare to it, poetry if you will.

The film is rife with great ideas, great moments...from the reveal of a corpse with a mirror on a door, to the two Sullivans in a diner one night after a bank robbery and the younger Sullivan asks for his share. He asks for $200 dollars, a sum he obviously considers to be a great amount. It's just a nice character moment between father and son.

Truthfully, that is really what this movie is all about...it's just got the Capone era as a backdrop the machinations of a demented family life.
"Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers. " - John Rooney (Paul Newman).
In many ways, this is a lot like Mendes earlier film, American Beauty. Sure there is the obvious similarities in theme music at points, the examination of family ties that bind and bound, but it goes further. There is the camera element. Like Wes Bentley/Ricky Fitts character who photographs the beautiful moments in life we have Jude Law as a member of the press who not only goes around taking pictures of what he considers beautiful, in his case, corpses...he makes the corpses. That is not a complaint, it is actually a compliment, an element of Law's character that makes him all the more vicious and interesting.

Really, all I have for the film are a lot of compliments...both technically and artistically...but still...something prevents it from getting that 5 stars out of 5 and I do believe it stems from the inherent and necessary cold attitudes of the characters within the film. Besides, who really wants to see the film about a hitman with a heart of gold? If you read any other reviews about the film and they give it ANYTHING less than a 3...then they are not ever worth reading again because they obviously have a slanted opinion.

For Conrad Hall's cinematography alone (just give him the Academy Award for his work right now)...2 stars. Even if I were to only give Jude Law, Paul Newman and Tom Hanks a half star each for their fine, restrained performances...well that brings us to 3.5 stars...and I have to say, this is a four star film.

However, I do think Dreamworks brought this out a few months too early. It's not a very 'summer-ish' movie. It takes place in six weeks of winter, it has a fall feeling to it, it's cold and melancholy throughout...a November release would have been the way to go in my opinion...but I just write the reviews, I don't release the movies.

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