Thursday, June 2, 2016


(July 2002, U.S.)

One of the interesting things about the career of Tom Hanks is that he's always played a good guy. Yes, from SPLASH (1984) to FORREST GUMP (1994) to last year's BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), Hanks has always been the guy you could count on. Hell, even when he was playing a horny and tasteless asshole in BACHELOR PARTY (1984), his heart was always in the right place. So it's all the more intriguing when he finally plays a man like Michael Sullivan in ROAD TO PERDITION (based on a graphic novel), an enforcer for the Illinois Irish mob, run by boss John Rooney (played by Paul Newman in his final live action theatrical feature) during the Great Depression. And yet, despite this character of violence and murder, Hanks still manages to put his heart in the right place. Sullivan is a cold-blooded killer, but displays strong evidence of his loyalty and love toward his organization and his wife and two boys. Love for family is what drives Sullivan throughout the film as he's forced to go on the run in order to protect his oldest son Michael Jr. from the very people he's devoted his life and loyalty to.

Having grown up fatherless, Sullivan was raised by Rooney, who appears to love him more than his own biological son, the very unstable Connor (played by a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig). When Michael Jr. decides to hide in the back of his father's car one night in order to satisfy his curiosity as to what his father really does for a living, he unwillingly witnesses his father gunning down a group of men in a warehouse. Despite Sullivan swearing his son to secrecy and Rooney pressuring Connor to apologize for the reckless action, Connor murders Sullivan's wife and younger son, regardless. Rather than be ambushed in a related murder attempt, Sullivan escapes and flees with his oldest surviving son.

And so, we basically have a film that is part mob movie keeping with the sensible tradition of THE GODFATHER in both it's photography and its characters and the other part...well, dare I say road movie. While on the run to join the safety of a relative, Sullivan and his son come to know each other for the first time and find the opportunity to strengthen their relationship in the wake of tragedy. Although his father's "profession" is now out in the open, Michael Jr. doesn't seem all that disturbed by it. He learns to drive the family car and even acts as getaway driver when Sullivan robs several Chicago banks of the mob's laundered money that's being stored there. Unlike his father, though, Michael Jr. doesn't possess the cold-bloodedness to use a gun when necessary, even at the very end. Rooney's enforcers are practically an easy target for Sullivan because he appears to be all the wiser to their thoughts and their next moves. The true danger and cat-and-mouse tactics the two of them face is a crime scene photographer who moonlights as a paid assassin (played by Jude Law). He's a seemingly simple, if not goofy kind of man, whose plain looks and receding hairline are only a front for a sick killer who appreciates the sight and color of blood.

By the time ROAD TO PERDITION has concluded, nearly everyone we've come to know in the film is dead. Except Michael Jr., of course. His life and his future have been the entire reason we've traveled the road with him and his father. Still, we've (hopefully) come to understand that a man like Michael Sullivan, mob killer or not, is still a man with a soul...and when he's played by such a good guy like Tom Hanks, it makes it all the more easy. Unlike Sam Mendes' previous film AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999), family takes on a whole different meaning here. The film explores father-son relationships, not just between Michael Sullivan and his son, but between Sullivan and Rooney, as well as Rooney and Connor. Sullivan idolizes and fears Rooney at the same time. Connor has none of Sullivan's moral and redeeming qualities, and Rooney becomes conflicted about whom he should protect when trouble starts. Connor, being insanely jealous of his own father's relationship with Sullivan, is driven to anger and murderous actions, ultimately causing the unfortunate domino effect that destroys everyone's lives. As a crime thriller, it places violence in all the right and predictable places, but also plays around with artistic visuals during times of violence, as well. At the moment Sullivan finally takes his revenge against Rooney and his men, the shootings are filmed to the background score of only soft music while we witness a hard rain storm in progress, the water seemingly meant to serve as a cinematic theme of, perhaps, life and death...

Tom Hanks, being what he is and always shall be, excels in nearly every role he plays. But it's truly Paul Newman that I shall remember best in this film. A gentle and touching big screen swan song for a man who had such a distinguished career. I still miss him.

Favorite line or dialogue:

John Rooney (realizing that Michael Sullivan is about to kill him): "I'm glad it's you."

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