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Road To Perdition

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Road To Perdition

Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman
Director: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: July 2002
Genre: Drama




Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

"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 six weeks.

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 character development.

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 AMERICAN BEAUTY.

"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 story.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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