Road to Perdition review by The Grim Ringler

The Road to Perdition- DVD review

There is an overwhelming sadness to Perdition that has stayed with me since first seeing it in a theater in the summer of 2K2 and that stays with me still. At the time of seeing the film I felt it was, at the time, the best film I had seen that year, and now, looking back, and freely admitting I didn’t see every movie released last year, I stand by that – this is the best film of 2002.

Why it was snubbed this year at the Oscars I cannot say. Perhaps it was that Chicago was so big that there was no other choice, or that there were so many other bigger movies that came out. It could be any of a dozen reasons. To me, I think it’s that it was two things – it was released in the summer, a dead time for higher brow, higher profile movies, and that it is just too somber and sad for them to really consider it amongst movies that are either higher profile, or are sad in a ‘good’ way. To hell with the Oscars though, right?

Through the second viewing the film retains its sadness and its beauty, pulling the viewer into a harsh 1930s world where a man must protect his son and perhaps hunt his surrogate father if his son is to have any chance at a future. Having lost his wife and youngest son to murder at the hands of the cowardly natural born son of his adopted father, Mike Sullivan has no choice but to run, taking his son with him in the hopes he can at least keep his last son alive. And, haunted by a music score that is always there, setting each scene but never overpowering it, Sullivan and his son set out to find the man that killed their family and to exact a revenge that is Sullivan’s only means of coping. We see him cry, after the death of his wife and son, but his emotions afterward are masked save for two scenes in which his feelings take partial control of a man used to being a faceless, emotionless killer. The heart of the story is the journey of the father and the son, of Sullivan and his boy, and how Tom Hanks’ character must protect a son he doesn’t even know, and his son must learn to love a man he has only seen as a phantom. As they travel across Illinois, into Chicago, and then into the coastal region of Michigan, the two form a bond, one at first of convenience, but later of love, learning slowly to love one another not through words, but through actions and looks. Hanks was a man who never knew his real father and only knew a gangster as his mentor, teacher, and adoptive father, and loved him as such, but never was able to show that love. Now Sullivan has grown to become very much like his surrogate father, played brilliantly by Paul Newman, and is a distant, cold-blooded man with a good heart, trying to do the right thing. As the film closes in on the climax though Sullivan realizes the only way he can do what he needs to do – get revenge for the murders of his wife and son – he must face his ‘father’ and risk either killing the man he loves so deeply or dying by that same man’s hand. And there is a sad inevitability to the film that makes it resonate so much for me – that so many of the characters know what they are doing is at times senseless, but that they feel they have no choices, that they are behaving as they have been taught, and to a degree, are expected to act. And this is never more obvious then in a brilliantly shot rain sequence in which Sullivan tracks down Newman’s Rooney for what may be the last time. And even the ending itself seems as if it was unavoidable. This is just how some things are meant to be.

Road to Perdition is a brilliantly shot and made film, Mendes proving he is no one-trick-pony after the success of American Beauty, and quietly staking out a place as one of the best directors working in the industry today. Perdition never pushes anything, letting the film and story play out, so much so that even the music, lead by a soft and ghostly piano, never becomes bigger than any scene, simply framing it for the events to unspool. Hanks, in his softest, saddest performance, plays Sullivan as a man haunted by the life he has created for himself and his family, a man who knows he has made the wrong choices and now must pay for them, and hope his son can choose a better path. And Newman’s Rooney never becomes a villain, even though he can be said to be one, he is merely a man protecting his son from someone who wants to murder him. He knows his son is a bastard, and hates him for it, but loves him still as his son, almost as if he has no choice. But he also loves Sullivan and does everything he can to get Sullivan out of what could become a very deadly situation, hoping he will just go away and forget it, but knowing he won’t. Perdition was adapted from a graphic novel but you’d never imagine that, which perhaps means Hollywood is finally taking comics more seriously. The film never becomes cartoonish or false, never taking the film as anything less than a great Greek tragedy about a man that must face the thought of killing his own surrogate father to save his son. This is a film about fathers and their sons – Sullivan and his own son, Rooney and his son – who has always been jealous of Sullivan – and about Rooney and Sullivan, who seem more like father and son than Rooney and his own son do.

The DVD looks and sounds wonderful, though I set my DVD player for standard instead of the movie setting so I could see some of the darker scenes more easily. The film was shot beautifully and it really does come out in the disc, though some of the scenes, especially the scene in the rain, are not as effective as they were in the theater. The DVD comes with a very interesting, if dry, commentary track by Mendes that gives a lot of insight into how much he thought out the film, and how much work they put in showing who the characters were wordlessly. There are also several deleted scenes that flesh out some of the unseen moments in the film and that are very well done but can be seen as unneeded in the finished product. The deleted scenes are actually very well done and show a more tender side of Sullivan as well as giving you a glimpse of a talked about but never seen Al Capone.

Road to Perdition is a great film, and one that deserves to be seen. the special edition isn’t as special as it might have been, but is a nice compliment to a brilliant, timeless film that still moves me to this day. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


9 out of 10 Jackasses

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