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Road to Perdition (2002)

R 111 minutes

Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by David Self

 · Tom Hanks
 · Paul Newman
 · Jude Law

Review by Thom Stricklin

"The best crime drama since The Godfather." You've seen that TV spot for Road to Perdition, right? The claim is a bit unfair, in that it begs for comparison between the two films. Godfather is one-of-a-kind. Tom Hanks himself has said on the big screen: "The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom."

Road to Perdition is a wholly different film. It focuses on a different ethnic group, on a different level in mob heirchy. It doesn't center itself around a godfather, but a blood-father. We watch not as a family tears itself apart, but braves all odds to keep it together. No, this film isn't The Godfather. But, it's brilliant in its own unique way.




Road to Perdition is, quite simply, a visual masterpiece. This is hardly a surprise, as it's adapted from a graphic novel, a medium that itself requires stunning visuals. In fact, though I'm not familiar with the book, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the points of view were adapted directly: a scene shot into a car's rear window; a scene peering through a hole in the wall and between the legs of a standing man. Additionally, the film is drenched in rain, not only setting the mood, but brilliantly playing off shadows in the corners and figures in the distance.

Costuming and set design are equally supportive of the film. Not a single item looks out of place; not a minute passes in which you don't believe the film is set in the early '30s. Hotel rooms, bridges, even the Chicago skyline matches that of the true 1930s city. Visual effects and sound design are also seamless. When a gun fires, you can see, hear... practically feel the bullet wizz past your head. I will be shocked if this film doesn't receive Oscar nods for its production.




Sam Mendes takes great care to pace the film, allowing the characters to develop and emotion to reflect across the scenery. Unfortunaly, this can have a slowing effect, making the Road a long and winding one for less patient moviegoers.

Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, and stunning newcomer Tyler Hoechlin deliver incredibly developed characters: Mob boss John Rooney, hitman Mike Sullivan, and hitman's son Michael Jr. Unfortunately, the isolation and moral ambiguity these characters exhibit can keep the audience distanced at times. However, such filmgoers will find solace in Jude Law's character, Maguire, an eerily sadistic killer sent after the Sullivans.



Nobody makes anybody an offer he can't refuse. No one wakes up next to a horse's head. Road to Perdition is much subtler, and to its benefit, much simpler. By the second third of the film, I guarantee you'll stop making Godfather comparisons, and you'll be watching fate play out for Michaels Sr. and Jr.

465 Words Published: 19 July 2002

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