Road to Perdition: A Movie Worth a Second Look

I first saw this movie when I was in middle school. At the time, I don’t think I was able to watch it and see it for what it is. As I remember, I thought that this movie was a big deal because Tom Hanks was playing against his nice guy image, supposedly being the bad guy. This is an acting move that I think all actors should do in their careers, go against your image and do something different. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. In this film it works. 

In my opinion, Hanks delivers one of his best performances in his career. Hanks plays a tough enforcer for the Irish mob, Mike Sullivan, during the great depression. He is far removed from the characters in Splash, Big, and Forrest Gump. He is kind of an anti-hero. He is playing against his usual type, but not all the way against type. His character definitely has some loose moral ground, but ultimately this is a man who is protecting his son. 

As I got the chance to revisit this movie, I saw some of my favorite actors on screen together.  In one of his last performances Paul Newman brings home a masterfully reserved, but powerful, performance as the head of an Irish American Mob family, Mr. John Rooney. You get to see a young Daniel Craig as the black sheep and cowardly son of Newman. The cast also showcases Stanley Tucci, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dylan Baker and Ciaran Hinds.  

What I love about this movie is the story that plays out between Hanks’ character and his son, who is played by a very young Tyler Hoechlin. Hoechlin would go on to wear the superman suit and “S” on Supergirl. Hoechlin’s character, Michael Sulivan, witnesses what his father really does for a living after years of not knowing exactly what his job is for Mr. Rooney, played by Newman. After witnessing a murder of a syndicate associate, by Conor Rooney (Daniel Craig),  Michael is sworn to secrecy by both his father and Mr Rooney. 

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Conor Rooney, is the black sheep of the family. This becomes clear in another, but less famous, piano scene between Hanks and Newman. Conor Rooney feels jealousy of the relationship between Newman and Hanks characters. It is later learned that Mike Sulivan, was taken in by Mr. Rooney when he was a young boy and raised with the family. 

After the murder, Conor is forced to apologize several times in front of the rest of the Mob Families. Conor, in a rage from his social embarrassment, takes it upon himself to go to the home Mike Sulivan and murder his wife and second son Peter, while at the same time setting up Sulivan to be murdered by a debtor. 

Sullivan survives the attack and realizes that his son Michael is now in danger, but luckily Michael was not home at the time. When he returns home he finds his mother and brother and sees their killer. Hanks’s character returns home and finds the bodies of his family and takes on the Irsh mob to avenge their deaths. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Rooney finds out what his son has done and confronts Conor at their home. Conor, obviously still scared of his elder father, breaks down. During this interaction, Mr. Rooney changes from a mob boss to a caring father as he realizes that now he has to protect his biological son from the wrath of his adopted son. 

Hanks’s character and his son Michael take off across the state of Illinois, enroute to Aunt Sarah’s home in Perdition on the shores of Lake Michigan. Now this means a lot for me because I grew up in the great lakes area. The movie takes on a theme of the relationship between fathers and sons. Both with Hanks’s character and his son Michael seeking revenge for the deaths of their family and the relationship between Paul Newman and Daniel Craig. A dominating father now has to protect his son from the repercussions of his actions. The third relationship is between Paul Newman and Tom Hanks. Hanks’ character looks at Newmans Mr. Rooney as a father figure and now has to stand against this man who gave him everything when they had nothing. 

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Through the course of the movie we see that the relationship between Michael and Hanks begins at a point of distance and standoffishness. As the violence increases and Hanks wages his war against the Mob, the pair begin to become closer. And just as you think the movie is going to end on a high note, it takes a turn. 

The turn comes when the hunter, Hanks, becomes the hunted when Mr. Rooney looks for help for the Chicago Mob. They hire a hitman, Harlen Maguire played by Jude Law. Jude Law’s character holds no moral compass as he is willing to murder a 12 year old boy and then take photos of the people that he kills. Thus, his day job is a crime scene photographer for the press. Jude Law’s performance is actually really good. He holds his own against Hanks in every scene. He really does become a menacing character for the film. 

The best part of this film is the final scenes where Hanks kills Mr Rooney. The best part of this scene is that you don’t actually see a gun fight. All you see is the rain and the muzzle flashes. It isn’t till Hanks finally makes it to Mr. Rooney and he looks at Hanks and says, “ I’m glad it was you.” Then Hanks fires his Thompson Submachine Gun into Mr. Rooney, but all you see is the anguish and pain that is on Hanks’s face as he guns down his father figure. 

In the next scene, Hanks makes the deal with Stanley Tucci’s character for the location of Conor Ronney. We then see Hanks walk into the hotel room and calmly kill Conor Rooney and walk out. This is the end of the conflict, or so we thought. Hanks and Michael make it to Perdition. Once there, while looking out the picture window at Michael playing with the dog on the beach, Hanks is shot in the back by Jude Law’s character. Then, Michael who heard the shots from outside, runs into the home and holds a gun on Jude Law. 

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It’s here that you would expect Michael to gun down Jude Law’s character but is not able too. A theory that I like to entertain is that Michael has a clear moral compass. He says that his favorite subject in the school is that he likes Bible study. He also takes a figure from a church. This compared with the narration in the opening scenes of the film, which sounds like a eulogy. Is it possible that Michael goes on to join the church as a priest? Jude Law’s character is killed by Hanks with a hidden gun. Hanks dies on the floor while Michael is there holding him. 

What I liked about this movie was the overall story and the visual aspect of the film, It feels gritty and rough. It uses dark tones and dulled colors to really make you feel like this is the 1930’s. The set designs for the interiors look extremely well, especially all of the hotel shots. What I also liked was the choice to not go with a typical mobster family and rather the Irsh mob. Al Capone is mentioned in the film ,but you never get to see him. He is mentioned through middle men, which does make me want to believe that this was a mid level problem. In the grand scheme of things, it was not such a problem that Capone himself had to get involved. 

Overall I would say that the feel of the film is much like Shawshank Redemption in visuals and style. I see a lot of the similarities, but there are differences that make this movie stand out on its own.  I found the music to be a lot of the time blan and again makes me think of Shawshank in that matter. 

I also did not like the part in the story where Hanks’s character goes and finds Dylan Bakers character. To me this was too close to the same storyline of the Untouchables. It works to progress the movie, but to me it just seemed too easy that Hanks would go and find the accountant to get files that lead him to find out that Dainel Craig was stealing money for years. 

Which leads me to think is one of the best scenes in the film. Hanks’s character finds this information out and confronts Mr. Rooney in the basement of a church. Newman explains that he knows what his son has been doing, but that even though his son has wronged him he won’t turn him over to Hanks to be killed. Mr. Rooney also does not want to see anything happen to Hanks character as he has come to love him like a son. So, Mr. Rooney is torn on who to give his loyalty to. Whereas for Hanks it is clear that if Mr. Rooney does not turn over Conor he will have to kill both of them. 

It is a great film. If you have not seen it I would highly recommend that you do. This film serves as a great step outside of the type cast that Hanks was getting placed into as the dramatic leading man hero. Also, This is one of the last films that Paul Newman was in and some of the first appearances for Jude Law and Daniel Craig. It is fantastically shot and directed and has a well paced story. Give it another look for yourself. 

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