Road to Perdition

After directing Alan Ball’s overrated stab at ’90s suburban drama, American Beauty, Sam Mendes took a shot at American noir with Road to Perdition, set in 1931. This adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel is crisply, starchily self-conscious in its efforts to be a gangster epic: slow tracking or portentous music in lieu of sharper dialogue or keener-edged character development; hallway shots and static framing turn a murder-scene discovery into house-horror out of The Shining; a shot of a bike left behind in the snow too-obviously marks a youngster’s cold drive off into maturity. And there’s not enough sense of that youngster—his adventurousness, his eagerness to break the restraints of a Catholic upbringing—before his boy’s-adventure-story goes violently awry.

The boy is Michael Sullivan Jr (Tyler Hoechlin), son of an enforcer for Irish-American mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) in Rock Island, Illinois. After Michael hides in a car and follows his father (Tom Hanks) and Rooney’s son Connor (Daniel Craig), only to see them knock off some men, Connor tries to kill Michael Sr and his family. Father and son, the only survivors, go on the run to Capone’s Chicago.

It was Newman’s last feature-film appearance and he’s the usual presence and pleasure to watch. Craig, a decade before Bond in Mendes’ Skyfall, is a pug-faced thug who only knows how to deal with life brutishly. The picture’s basically a nicely shot, sharply lit style-showcase, though one chilling scene on the threshold of the Sullivans’ home plays ingeniously with night-time point-of-view and the finale has some tragic force. Amid some too-neat little plot turns involving a vampire-like hitman, the one new twist in this gangster tale is its brief blood-smearing of the line between mob-family loyalty and being a wage-slave cog in a crime syndicate’s grinding wheel. There are grace notes of a hard, cold, post-Crash world, from Michael’s own traumatic shocks to lines of people looking for jobs—but they remain just notes, not a signature tone or feel. As far as Prohibition-era dramas go, Perdition is a pretty-enough remote place, with its rain and snow and fedoras and trenchcoats, but it’s still a long way from Boardwalk Empire and Miller’s Crossing. 

Tue, Jan 21 (7 pm)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 2002



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