A review of “Road to Perdition” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for violence, bloodshed

Run Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

 

 

No Sophomore Slump for director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), who segues from Oscar winner to Oscar-winning potential with a smooth sleight of hand.

“Perdition” is defined as “eternal damnation”.  Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) has known from childhood that he’s destined for the fiery den below.  As the adopted son of Irish mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman), Sullivan also knows which side his bread is buttered on.  He’s as loyal and trustworthy a hitman as they come.

Rooney rules his Depression-era Chicago suburb as God rules the earth.  Complex father and son relationships mark both men with an aggressive fidelity.  Sullivan is dad to two sons, young Michael and Peter (newcomer Tyler Hoechlin and child professional Liam Aiken), for whom he yearns for a cleaner career path than the one he was drawn into.  Rooney’s son Connor (Daniel Craig) is the family disappointment; a pompous weakling with a hair-trigger temper and an enduring resentment of his father’s devotion to Sullivan. 

Not unexpectedly, one of Rooney’s lackeys steps out of line and is taken-out point blank by the volatile Connor, with Sullivan standing by as his trusty sideshow.  The reckless turn of events is witnessed by Michael, who stowed away in Dad’s car in an effort to get the bottom of his father’s enthralling “job”.

A heavy aura of disapproval and mistrust compresses to make room for suspicious paranoia.  Connor takes a deadly misstep by attempting to snuff the potential squealer, with unforeseen and tragic consequences. Suddenly, it’s Sullivan and son on the run, a deadly cat-and-mouse chase across the relentless Midwestern landscape.

Too much of a good thing?  “Perdition” boasts A-list craft across the boards, from its decorated director to its talented cast and all-pro crew.  Consequently, the look is lush, 1930s Chicago is sumptuously dark and moody, and Mendes’ direction is shrewd.  But one can’t help feel that the film is too conscious of its technique, imbued with careful calibration and the look-at-me quality that earmarked Ron Howard’s awards-saturated “A Beautiful Mind”.

This won’t be Hanks’ next shot at an Oscar.  Undeniably one of our finest actors, he’s uncomfortably miscast as a conscienceless assassin.  For that matter, Hanks as a dishonorable human being is an awkward fit.  Jude Law turns in a judicious performance as a ghoulish predator with a Chaplinesque gait, but Newman needs to inject subtlety into his twilight-career repertoire.  Movie-maestro Thomas Newman’s emotive, dissonant score is exhilaratingly high-profile, establishing Mood from the opening frame and maintaining its stranglehold on the project through to the end credits. 

Revenge, betrayal and the dirty, yet elegant, goings-on of the Irish Mob are consistently enthralling. An accomplished American beauty.