'Road to Perdition' Review: Tom Hanks and Paul Newman Acting Show

Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin in Road to Perdition
Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Road to Perdition

British director Sam Mendes won an Academy Award for his first film, American Beauty, released in 1999. His second film, Road to Perdition, came out three years later. Mendes once again relied on the assistance of cinematographer Conrad L. Hall and composer Thomas Newman to create another stylized look at dysfunctional American families. But instead of late 20th-century suburbia, Road to Perdition throws us into the warped universe of a Depression-era, all-American Midwestern town; a place where family values include faith, loyalty, extortion, and murder.

Road to Perdition begins as a teenager reminisces about the winter of 1931, a time when he and his father were on the run from a hired killer and assorted gangsters.

Things had been better earlier, when Michael Sullivan (a stolid-faced Tom Hanks as an Angel of Death figure) worked as a hitman for Irish mafia boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). Sullivan, in fact, had been raised by Rooney and loved the old man as if he were his own father. But it all changed for the worse after 12-year-old Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) sneaked into his father's car and witnessed Rooney's biological son, Connor (Daniel Craig), kill a man at point blank. The psychopathic Connor decides to get rid of the young witness, but ends up killing the boy's mother and younger brother instead.

Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition

Road to Perdition by Sam MendesMore murders ensue as the bereaved Sullivan becomes obsessed with extracting revenge. All the while, he must keep running one step ahead of a bloodthirsty photographer (an appropriately creepy Jude Law) while dealing with the organized crime bosses – good capitalists all, eager to protect the stability of their business.

Considering all the spilled family blood, Road to Perdition – inspired by the lives of organized crime boss John Looney and his son – has the makings of a great modern tragedy, a promise that goes unfulfilled because of a screenplay filled with plot holes (e.g., Connor doesn't know – nor does he apparently care about – which Sullivan boy he murders) and clichés (e.g., farm life is good; urban life is evil).

Paul Newman in Road to Perdition

On the positive side, Mendes and Hall (who received a posthumous Academy Award for his work on this film) do create some brilliant atmospheric shots, such as a dreamlike massacre on a rainy night that is as powerful as it is unrealistic. As a plus, the film's period reconstruction is for the most part quite impressive. (The phony speakeasy-cum-bordello sequence is a glaring exception.)

On top of that, Road to Perdition offers what may well be Paul Newman's greatest performance. Had the other actors been given as many good lines as Newman – “Natural law. Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers” – and extracted as much out of them as Newman does, this average thriller would have gotten considerably closer to the great tragedy it aims to be.

ROAD TO PERDITION (2002). Dir.: Sam Mendes. Cast: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci, Daniel Craig, Dylan Baker, Ciarán Hinds, Liam Aiken. Scr.: David Self; from Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner's graphic novel.

Note: A version of this Road to Perdition review was initially posted in October 2004.

1 Academy Award Win

Best Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall

5 Academy Award Nominations

Best Supporting Actor: Paul Newman

Best Art Direction: Dennis Gassner (art director), Nancy Haigh (set decorator)

Best Original Score: Thomas Newman

Best Sound: Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, John Pritchett

Best Sound Editing: Scott Hecker

'Road to Perdition' Review: Tom Hanks and Paul Newman Acting Show © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
Text NOT to be reproduced without prior written consent.

Leave a comment about ''Road to Perdition' Review: Tom Hanks and Paul Newman Acting Show'


Don't waste time and energy disagreeing with and/or being deeply offended by the presentation of factual information.

On the other hand, it's perfectly okay to disagree with and/or, if you're so inclined, to be deeply offended by the views & opinions (and/or likes & dislikes) found on this site. And to let us know about any omissions or, heaven forbid, errors.

Just bear in mind that *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative.

In other words: Feel free to add something reasonable & coherent – AND fact-based – to the discussion.

Abusive/bigoted, trollish/inflammatory, baseless (spreading misinformation, whether intentionally or not), spammy, and/or just plain deranged comments will be zapped and offenders may be banned.

And finally, links found in comments will generally be deleted.

Most recent comments listed on top.