There are several movies that I would unequivocally recommend to any of my friends, and Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition is one of them. The film, which is based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, tells the story of a family in a small mid-western town in 1931. Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hitman for the local crime boss John Rooney (Paul Newman), a man who rules the town and looms large over Sullivan’s past. Sullivan’s son, Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) is a boy who always wanders into trouble. Sullivan provides for his family and tries to shield his sons from the life that he leads. But after Michael follows his father to one of his mysterious jobs and sees the seedy and violent side of the Rooney family, tragedy strikes the Sullivan family. Forced to go on the run, Sullivan has to look out for his son in new ways as they try to outsmart a chilling hitman (Jude Law) and seek revenge against Rooney and his son (Daniel Craig).
This movie, at its heart, is the story about a father and son developing a relationship. Mendes, director of American Beauty and Skyfall, is known for his carefully crafted films and gorgeous cinematography. Road to Perdition is no exception. Mendes takes the time to introduce you to the Sullivans’ world and the state of Sullivan and Michael’s relationship at the start of the movie. When the viewer first sees the father and son interact, they are at either ends of a dark hallway, with a chasm between them. Throughout the movie, however, they become all that the other has, and both become determined to protect the other in any way that they can. They become comrades and a bond stronger than blood alone develops during their six weeks on the road.
The direction and cinematography are wonderful, and film score, composed by Thomas Newman, is dark, searing, and hauntingly beautiful. The acting in this film is also excellent. Whoever cast this film did a great job. Tom Hanks gives a moving performance as the distant father, a man too tied up in his work to pay his son much attention. As the movie progresses he grows and changes, and some of his scenes were so raw and emotional that they still move me to tears. Paul Newman, who happens to be my favorite actor, is phenomenal as the aging crime boss who at one moment is a kind and smiling grandfather and the next can show just how cold you have to be to make it to the top of the crime world. Jude Law is skin-crawlingly creepy as the hitman following the Sullivans, and it is obvious that he reveled in this part. Daniel Craig, in an early performance, plays sniveling, cowardly Connor Rooney well. And Tyler Hoechlin, who grew up oh so nice, gives a moving performance as Michael, the boy who is forced to come of age and reconcile with his father during a time of violence and danger.
This film is one of my favorites because I love the time period, the actors all give incredible performances, and at its core, the story of the bond between a father and son is so powerful and moving. Some people complain that the movie is slow, but I think those people miss the point of the film. This isn’t a shoot ‘em up gangster film. This is the story of a father, who happens to be a hitman, and his son, who has to deal with the ramifications as his father goes down the road to perdition.