"What's papa's job?" Peter Sullivan (Liam Aiken) asks his slightly older
brother, Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), a serious, 12-year-old bookworm whose
favorite novel is "The Lone Ranger." It's a bit of a mystery in the Sullivan
household just what their father, Mike (Michael Sr.), does for his boss, a
wealthy man named John Rooney, played beautifully by Paul Newman. If their mom
(Jennifer Jason Leigh) knows, she's not telling.
In another Oscar-caliber performance, Tom Hanks plays the father in ROAD TO
PERDITION. A highly nuanced, compelling piece of work, Hank's acting will
remind you of his reserved, resolute and resigned performance as the Captain in
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. As you may have heard, this time Hanks plays a bad guy,
but, relatively speaking, he's a sort of a saint among sinners, no matter how
many men he kills. The story convinces us that circumstances are at least
partially to blame for his poor career choice.
In order to discover what papa does in his evenings on the job, Michael invents
his own version of take-your-kids-to-work day. He hides in his Dad's big, black
car under his father's "tool kit," a suitcase big enough to carry a violin, or
-- you guessed it -- a Tommy gun. That night proves to hold the seminal event
in Michael's young life. From there the story becomes one of chase and revenge.
As Michael tells us in the opening narration, he spent "six weeks on the road
with him [his father] in the winter of 1931." The story is mainly about those
This closely observed film is the second picture by AMERICAN BEAUTY's Sam
Mendes. Other than their exceptional quality, the two movies couldn't be more
different. Whereas every minute of AMERICAN BEAUTY was jam packed with
sarcastic wit, ROAD TO PERDITION is put together lovingly as if every moment is
to be savored slowly like a fine wine. Mendes is like a great conductor who can
mesmerize his audiences no matter which piece he chooses from his repertoire.
The script by David Self (THIRTEEN DAYS) excels in the dialog ("Natural Law:
Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.") as well as in the
The casting is outstanding. In addition to those already mentioned, Jude Law
plays a dangerous press photographer who brags, "I shoot the dead." Daniel
Craig plays John Rooney's dangerously hot-headed son. And Stanley Tucci
delivers a refined version of Frank Nitti.
The production is stunning. Albert Wolsky's costumes make maximum use of big
hats and heavy woolen coats. Thomas Newman's melancholy music sets the mood
perfectly. And, most of all, Conrad L. Hall's cinematography turns out to be
the crowning achievement of the entire movie. With rich mahogany colors and
warm use of shadows, the look is astounding. Best of all is a nighttime gun
battle in the rain that becomes an instant classic. Don't waste your time
voting, Academy members. Just award Hall the Oscar now. He can put the
statuette by his other two for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and for
"There is only one guarantee -- none of us will see heaven," John tells Mike,
speaking probably about their entire profession. And there is only one
guarantee about the movie itself -- while watching it, you'll feel like you've
arrived in cinematic heaven.
ROAD TO PERDITION runs 1:59. It is rated R for "violence and language" and
would be acceptable for teenagers.
My son Jeffrey, age 13, who doesn't normally like serious shows, gave this one
***. He had nothing but praise for it, especially for Hank's acting and for the
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes