"Road To Perdition"

per·di·tion (per-dîsh¹en) noun

1.    a. Loss of the soul; eternal damnation. b. Hell: “Him the Almighty Power/Hurl'd headlong . . . /To bottomless perdition, there to dwell” (John Milton).

2.     Archaic. Utter ruin.[1]

Ironically, I haven’t looked forward to a non-Lucas or non-Spielberg movies release this much since The Untouchables were released back in the late 80’s. Road to Perdition and The Untouchables are two different takes on the Prohibition era gangsters of Chicago, a town and a place in time where this Fisk Family has some roots. Once in a while I want a movie with atmosphere, plot and jazz era/pre-World War II style. I was hoping this would be one of those movies. I made a big deal last week when this movie was released for home video, invited friends over to watch with us, had dinner and desert and a few drinks and enjoyed the whole thing. I wasn’t disappointed… this movie is everything I wanted it to be and more.

Afterwards, one of my friends asked me: “Would you still think it was a good movie if it didn’t have the Fedoras, long coats, Tommy guns and old cars?” As I sit here typing this up… I still don’t know if the answer would be yes. Would I be just as enthralled about this movie if it were about inner city black gangs wearing hooded sweatshirts and baggy pants driving around in souped up Honda’s and Toyota’s? I don't beleive so because half of what makes this movie great is the is atmosphere.  One of the reasons why it works so well is because this is story takes place in an era where style and substance still meant something. Chicago during the prohibition is an era of American history that’s as much a legend as the old West.

What is Road to Perdition? It’s American Beauty (also by Perdition Director Sam Mendes), The Untouchables and The Last Crusade crammed into two hours. It’s a unique story that’s brilliantly filmed with extravagant sets lit perfectly by a cinematographer Conrad L Hall. "Road To Perdition" is about getting lost in a story so compelling that you actually find yourself seeing people you know to some degree or another and might even remind you of aspects of yourself.

When it was first released for the theaters, folks were telling me it was a movie about Tom Hanks as a hit man who has to protect his son after the boy watched a killing. Putting it that simply betrays the complexity of the story. One rainy night, the younger Michael Sullivan  [Tyler Hoechlin] sneaks into the back of his fathers car only to witness his own father gun down two bootleggers after seeing the mob-boss’s son crack a round into the head of someone who he was interrogating. The added complexity of the sub-plot line not mentioned in typical descriptions of the film is two different Generations over lapping in the fight for the attention of their father figures… The younger Michael Sullivan wishing he had the kind of attention his younger brother Peter [Liam Aiken] receives while Connor Rooney [Daniel Craig] wishes he receives the kind of attention the elder Michael Sullivan enjoys from the local crime-boss, John Rooney [Paul Newman]. Both struggles lead up to one series of explosive results.

The close-knit extended family within the town run by the Rooney’s is shattered after Connor tries to eliminate the evidence of something far more sinister behind the ‘hit’ the young Michael Sullivan witnessed. Any slim chance of things getting to how they were before half of the Sullivan family is killed is shattered once and for all when John Rooney has to give the OK to have the surviving Sullivan’s killed. It’s a regrettable authorization from the elder Mister Rooney, understandably so when it's clear that he regards the Sullivan boys as his own grandchildren and his enforcer- Michael Sullivan Sr. – as his favorite “son”.

While on the run, the two Michael Sullivan’s try to piece together what happened. They are being chased by Maguire [Jude Law] a genuine psychopath who not only enjoys his work of being a killer for hire, but also as a photographer… as if taking pictures of the dead is some hybrid of necrophilia and pornography. It’s after the first encounter and exchange of bullets that force the two Sullivan’s to truly work and grow together. It’s the first real time that these two are able to develop some kind of relationship, after all the previous years of the father being a monolithic and mysterious figure, while it would seem the son was just another mouth to feed.

From all the bad that comes from these events, a little good rises to the top. The elder Michael Sullivan sets out on another quest as he goes to each bank where the bank executives hold the months take for Capone. He takes what he needs to provide for his son while draw out the facts of what was behind the scenes of Connor’s activities. The younger Sullivan grows into a young man quickly as he becomes more of a partner and the driver for these hit and run “robberies”.

Michael Sullivan returns back home to confront Paul Rooney when he finally uncovers what Connor has been up to. In the exchange under the church the two characters give the final meaning to the title of the movie:

John Rooney: There are only murderers in this room! Michael! Open your eyes! This is the life we chose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see heaven.
Michael Sullivan: Michael could.
John Rooney: Then do everything that you can to see that that happens.

Perdition… hell, the one place the Senior Sullivan knows he’s destined to drag his family down to because of choices he made years ago out of the desperation to provide for them. Now, his only purpose is to prevent that from happening to his son. Then it becomes clear that the only way to end this is to end the reign of the Rooney's. Killing them isn’t so much a matter of revenge. Even more poignant in this motion picture is the crusade to save his son’s soul.

Road to Perdition clearly illustrates what all good fathers know, that doing what ever they must do to help their children becomes second nature the day they are born. Children add an extra dimension to the lives of fathers, making their offspring’s well being far more important then their own. Tom Hanks does a brilliant job to portray this concept as his character moves from villainous hit man with heart to the near perfect father struggling for the right words to convey how he loved both son equally but differently.

Second to the interwoven plot lines, are the costumes and the locations used for this motion picture. Documented in the extras on the DVD is the lengthy process of getting everything to look authentic. After watching the motion picture it took a while to shake the notion that we spent 2 hours back in time. The way this movie was produced and filmed makes the seduction of the viewer complete.

Road to Perdition is the perfect Flick to hold you over … it has enough Fedora’s and guns for two or three movies. I would encourage everyone to actually go out and buy this motion picture on DVD or VHS if possible. I have no stake in DreamWorks, other then finding every way to encourage them to make more period pieces like Road to Perdition.

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