Basic Plot: Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hitman for the Irish Mafia in the 30's who has a very distant relationship with his son, Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) Tragedy strikes and the two of them are on the run, forced to rely on each other while they both evade danger and hunt the person who betrayed them. The story also features the head of the mob family John Rooney (Paul Newman), his son Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig), and a photographer/assassin Harlen Maguire (Jude Law)
The following films were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 2002
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Gangs of New York
Chicago was clever, fun, and had great musical numbers. The Hours was a well-acted snore. The Two Towers had some good action scenes but was plodding to the point where I almost passed out in my theater seat. The Pianist was decent: some good scenes but overall not very involving, emotional, profound, or interesting, but it's about the Holocaust so by seemingly by law it has to nominated. And of course Gangs of New York, despite Daniel Day-Lewis, was a boring, overlong powerpoint presentation of redundant camerawork.
My point is that Road to Perdition, without breaking a sweat, beats all five of them, yet barely anyone has seen it or talked about it. It got nominated for a few other awards, even won Best Cinematography, but if you ask most people about it, you'll mostly receive a perplexed stare. So I personally feel that having a movie review site without such a diamond in the rough wouldn't be justifiable, so here it is.
This movie rocks.
If the basic plot above sounded vague, it's because I'm trying not to give too much away because anyone reading this should see the film. Like Warrior, it's a film where everything came together beautifully. I could spend hours going through the movie chronologically and explaining how great each scene is, but you wouldn't read it. I wouldn't read it. In fact, the only real way to analyze this film is to run down a list of what makes movies well-crafted, and see how Road to Perdition performed. Because once you delve into specific scenes, it's impossible to stop. This movie is like cocaine for any movie lover.
The Story: Like most movies with the word "road" in it, much of the movie takes place in transit. Yet the movie takes its time setting up for the journey, and yet you don't even know, when starting the film, that a journey is going to take place at all. You know that feeling when you watch a movie and think, "ok, so when can we get going?" That doesn't happen here. It's not like the road trip is the prime stuff that the viewers are waiting for, and that the rest of the movie is just buildup or extraneous flab. Every scene is there to either further the plot or develop the characters, and there's no large section that is better than the others. The escalation of the plot, as Michael Sullivan and his son face bigger dangers, is in direct correlation to their growth as characters and their bond as father and son. It's done both emotionally and stylishly, which enough raw, finger-twitching shootouts to satisfy all.
The Acting: The four main players here, in terms of their fame, are Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, and Jude Law. Their skill aside, what makes them so entertaining to watch in this film is how they play roles very much outside their typical casting. And what are these men usually known for? Tom Hanks is a lovable everyman going through some personal struggle. Paul Newman is a slick, smooth operator. Daniel Craig is a realistically gruff action/drama star. And Jude Law is a good looking ladies man who can hold court in a whole room.
Now let's look at Road to Perdition. Tom Hanks is a stone-faced, bulking hitman for the mob. Paul Newman is a mafia head who is cold, calculated, and haunted by the past, although he can still put on a good face at a party. Daniel Craig is a skinny, jealous wimp. And Jude Law is an ugly, rat-like, greedy psychopath.
Now this all could mean nothing if the actors can't pull these roles off, but all four are extraordinary. Hanks gives his most subtle performance yet, and he nails it. Newman is pitch perfect as a grandfather-like figure who at the same time you don't quite trust. Craig is so believable as an jealous coward that I'm surprised he hasn't played such roles more often. You can see the envy in his eyes. And Law is truly intimidating. Every line from him sends a chill down your spine. Plus, all the minor characters, and even the son, are terrific. If you think it's no great feat to find a great child actor, name five right now.
The Look: Direction, cinematography, lighting, all of it is nothing short of masterful. The director and cinematographer had agreed to model many shots after Edward Hopper paintings, and it translates beautifully on the screen. Whether it's a car sitting bleakly among trees and lit lampposts, or a shootout outside a store window in torrential yet somehow calming rainstorm, the film is simply breathtaking to look at. You can see the work and detail that went into every shot, along with ingenious camerawork and use of color. Hell, you could watch it without sound and it'd probably still be good.
The Music: In one film the music here can be described as sweet, epic, demented, jazzy, heartbreaking, soulful, and badass.
Ok, congrats Clay, you spent several paragraphs explaining the fact that this movie is good, but is there anything wrong with it? Not really. It drags a bit in a few parts, but that's such a inconsequential issue. Like I said before, it's impossible to go into scene analysis without talking about the whole film because of just how many memorable ones there are. It's like listening to an album where every song is actually good. I'll try to focus on a few though.
There's a diner scene where Maguire tracks down and thoroughly creeps out Sullivan. This only takes a few minutes, and while the characters talk about work and seeing death firsthand, underneath it all Maguire is trying to sniff him out, to see what he's up against, while Sullivan tries to disguise his honest trepidation but can't resist a solitary bead of sweat rolling down his cheek. There's a scene in a speakeasy where background music, muddled by walls, creates an ultra-tense moment between a three people and two guns. There's a breathtaking shot that follows Sullivan walking through hotel hallways, pistol in hand. There's a quick montage that has all several scenes move from right to left, indicating the passage of time. There's a slow piano duet between Sullivan and John Rooney, showcasing their natural bond while Connor fakes an anguished smile from the sidelines. There's a shot in the church where candles light up a bitter man's face with almost hellish rage as he angrily stares up at god. There's a part where....
Oops, there I go. The fact is, if you enjoy dramas, if you enjoy artistic movies, and especially if you enjoy mafia films or films about fathers and sons, check this one out. And once you do, I have a feeling that you too will begin to doubt the validity of an Oscar nod.
Best Way to Watch: With your dad.