|ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)|
Jennifer Jason Leigh
|"May you get to Heaven an hour before the Devil knows you're dead."|
|Time: 134 mins.|
Genre: Crime Drama
Won Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Newman), Sound Editing, Sound, Score and Art Direction.
A stunningly orchestrated endeavor that leads to nowhere new. Unless one finds eternal good guy Hanks' switch to the dark side a compelling enough reason to trudge out to the cineplex. Since he is one of the best actors of his generation, I was sure he'd be able to pull off the transformation without much of a problem. The big question everyone in the media is raising is will audiences buy him as a cold-blooded killer? Well, yes. He's not playing Hannibal for God's sake. The film's time and place the winter of 1931 outside Chicago - allows him to hold the job of hired gun, making his actions seem just part of the fabric of everyday life in Prohibition America. His inherent goodness deepens a somewhat limited role, giving Michael Sullivan an edge of honor he would certainly not have had otherwise. Hanks is far from likable here, yet that's to be expected. He ends up being the hero of the piece, as the only man who keeps his word, but that's not saying much. He is a man hardened by the life he led and he lets his guns do the talking. However, by keeping the actual blood and guts to a minimum, the film distances Hanks from the brutality and allows us to not completely hate him.
His measured performance is a joy to behold, yet not enough to save the film as a whole. Though the film is emotionally complex, the story is fairly anemic with no mystery and even less suspense. Sure, there are plenty of gun battles on dark, rain-soaked streets, but the lack of forward momentum causes the film to drag most of the way. What sets the story in motion is a late night rendezvous gone bad in front of the prying eyes of Sullivan's 12-year-old son Michael. He and the boss's son Connor (Craig) were just supposed to talk, but Connor couldn't stop himself from putting a bullet in the head of their business partner. His father John Rooney (Newman), the man who raised Michael Sr. and rules their hometown, is far from pleased with his son's uncontrollable temper, yet does nothing about it. He loves Michael, but his loyalty is to his real son. He believes that Sullivan can keep the boy from talking. However, Conner deals with the situation by taking out the Sullivans without his father's permission. All he gains is a price on his head. One Michael Sullivan is going to stop at nothing to collect.
Forced to run, Sullivan and son race to Chicago in order to appeal to the big men at the top of the organization. They, however, are not willing to help him with his vendetta. Their loyalty is to the Rooneys. They are unwilling to anger a powerful business partner, despite the facts, to placate a hired hand's sense of injustice. They work in a dangerous business that sometimes takes the lives of innocent people. The meeting makes several thing clear to Michael, that he's on his own and is now a hunted man. The only way to protect his son is to eliminate his enemies, one by one. The only way to get the information he seeks where Conner is hiding is to hit them where it hurts in their pockets. His son, who only wanted to learn more about his father, gets his wish in spades. During their 6 weeks on the road, fighting for their future, Michael Jr. comes to understand the man he once feared, even if he doesn't quite respect his choices. All he wants is a simple life, one where he's loved by his father, where they start fresh away from all the death and violence. This wish is not meant to be. Sullivan eventually gets his revenge, but the price turns out to be higher than he hoped.
While grabbing at the heart, the plot just doesn't have enough meat to create a fully gripping picture. The relationships, between Hanks, Hoechlin and Newman, bristle with unstated love and overwhelming regret. It's the quiet scenes, where loyalty comes into play, that pack the most power. The gun battles are well-staged, but lack excitement because we know that Hanks is going to come out the winner. Mendes has proven, once again, that he's a cinematic force to be reckoned with. He manages to not only get the best actors in his films, but coaxes wonderfully nuanced performances from them as well. Not a tough job where Hanks and Newman are concerned, but he gets a great turn from newcomer Hoechlin. If we don't like the kid, the whole film goes down the toilet. We need to hope for his future, that he doesn't turn out just like his father. His character matures as the film progresses and you can see it in his eyes and body language. Hoechlin has a tough job and he nails it. Jude Law steals the show here as the degenerate hit man/corpse photographer sent to take out the Sullivans. A wildly gifted young actor, he seems to care more for the uniqueness of a role than the marquee value. He's a force to be reckoned with that makes every movie he's in, including this one, more interesting by his mere presence. This is a film of men, so don't expect much from Leigh. Her part is window dressing at best. Why she would take it is beyond me.
Despite the good acting, I think the only person who's going to be picking up awards early next year is cinematographer Conrad Hall. His use of light, color and composition is extraordinary, making this rather stale story a work of art. Combined with the production design and direction, this film looks a hell of a lot better than it plays. It's simply gorgeous. Much like O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, the film truly captures a sense of time and place that transports you away from the present into a whole different world. Films this stylized are rare these days, which is a horrible shame. This is what the medium is intended to be. Thomas Newman also deserves mention for his haunting, lyrical, pitch-perfect score. He hit all the right notes, adding to the excitement and giving the film an additional layer of complexity. ROAD TO PERDITION is a serious treat for those tired of the usual summer mind candy, but that's mainly due to style more than substance. It has a lot to say about the nature of man, the unconditional love of parents for their children and the ultimate corruption of power, though none of it very original. If you like the actors and genre, this is a decent way to pass the time. However, you won't remember it in the morning.