The Road to Redemption
The most appealing thing about Road to Perdition is its over-arching theme of redemption. Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), an Irish mafia, wants more to keep his son from following in his criminal footsteps. Even though father and son will eventually drive to a place called Perdition to lay low, the story’s title suggests that Michael has for many years been traveling the road to hell. He understands as much, and wants his son to avoid the same highway, a road with no off ramps.
Then there is John Rooney (Paul Newman in his last feature film role) who is the embodiment of Satan in the film, the pitiless head of an Irish crime family.
With the Rooney’s demonic hit man (Jude Law) on their trail, Sullivan goes to see the powerful Frank Nitti with the vain hope of obtaining mafia justice. But when Nitti tells Michael that he will not give up Conner because of the crime connections with Rooney, Michael realizes that his only recourse now is to eliminate his boss before Rooney kills his remaining son. In the great scene when Michael guns down Rooney and his intimates with a Thompson sub-machine gun that lights up the dark, it is a tossup of whether Michael is revenging himself, giving into his darkest, most vengeful lust, or that he is redeeming himself by saving Michael Jr. the only way he can.
Director Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition is the officially-approved US film of the moment, overwhelmingly endorsed by the media and starring “America’s favorite actor,” Tom Hanks. An unstated assumption is that the movie’s pedigree makes it an obligatory cultural or quasi-cultural experience for certain social layers. It is a gangster film with darkened images meant to impart an art-house quality. Set in the early Depression era, it is also insinuated that a social insight or two can be found lurking in the shadows.
Road to Perdition, even more than Mendes’ previous much-acclaimed film, American Beauty, is fool’s gold. The filmmaker has once again wrapped up crude banalities in shiny tin foil. But at least the latter film made some pretense at critiquing American materialism and careerism. Adapted from the comic-book novel (the third major film adaptation of a graphic novel this year!) by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, the film centers on father-son relationships in the upper echelons of an Irish mob in Rock Island, Illinois in 1931.
Over all it was a great movie!