Solid work can be timeless in its reach even be out of time. I admit to getting that feeling that someone could be today when I look at a picture of Louise Brooks who is modern in her style, look and facial expression especially those eyes. Strange when you see a portrait of Brooks that reaches across time. I like to speculate on what film of today could have been made during Golden Age of Hollywood. Tough to believe that this picture was done in 2002 and is sixteen years old yet Sam Mendes ROAD TO PERDITION could have been made in the past
ROAD TO PERDITION was based upon a graphic novel by crime writer Max Allan Collins which had a version written by David Self at the request of Steven Spielberg. The screenplay was then re written by uncredited people to distance itself from the gratuitous carnage that was in the original source material. Actor Tom Hanks and Cinematographer Conrad Hall requested Mendes limit the violence to necessary acts. One of the strengths of this picture is that a good amount of bloodletting occurs off screen which does not take away from the heart of the story.
Tom Hanks playing against type gives a wonderful mixture of cold hearted family man and an enforcer on a rollercoaster ride towards a fate that happens to people when they do the kinds of things that he has done.
The picture has many great scenes between Hanks and Newman one being their relationship set to music with no dialogue. These two act with their faces, their eyes and let the melody tell the story.
Paul Newman also muses that sons are put on earth to torment their fathers. One other has a young Daniel Craig getting his comeuppance at a meeting table from Paul Newman who is at the far end. Newman is seated through the scene; he and Craig play it as a ‘give and take” exercise giving them both moments to shine. Newman shows an actor brilliantly in touch with his craft and himself to give so much in those moments. James Cagney in John Ford’s 1955 production of MISTER ROBERTS is similar in stance and attack during his rant concerning not taking anything anymore from ‘college boys.’
The picture is filled with characters played by actors who are unafraid to make difficult choices. Jude Law as crusty Harlan Maguire wielding a shotgun, blowing holes in walls in hotel rooms that let sunshine in while trying to dispatch Tom Hanks. Moody Jennifer Jason Leigh as the wife of Tom Hanks that pays a price for her involvement.
The musical score by Thomas Newman is exceptional in this scope and tenderness. Unlike most films set in this time period Newman does not use re- orchestrated songs of the day or obscure pieces instead he uses flowing tones creating soundscapes that images themselves flow over and around. The music fades out at just the right moment in the climactic scene to let the rain patter down.
The cinematography by Conrad Hall who passed away during the making of the picture did win the Oscar that year. The film is filled with rain, mist, contrasting bright sunlight, shadows, rich wood tones and an almost sepia tone look.
Sam Mendes creates for us a sad story of a family doomed to consume itself because of its past. Yet it also juxtaposes the entire end on one family unit in a poignant ending. Seldom today does a picture come together on all areas of story and look: this work still does and is a mere eleven years old. It truly is a throwback to the great Noir films of the past. Yet it stands on its own with a modern look at themes of family devotion and father and son relationships.
Water images begin and end the picture either in the cleansing or hiding rain creating shadows. The desire and redemption of going to the beach as the goal at the end of the film that is not the same because this is Noir and ‘None of us will ever see Heaven.”
ROAD TO PERDITION has a break outlook on the world based on its visual content. The music, the relationships between family and father and son are a corner stone of this film. The work stands the test of time yet hard to believe that Tyler Hoechlin who plays Tom Hanks son in the picture can now be seen as “Superman’ on the current SUPER GIRL television series. Paul Newman has passed from us with this being his last on screen appearance.
ROAD TO PERDITION has that acid tinged look is one of the staples and drawing points of Film Noir itself so it passes with flying gray colors. The last word goes to Paul Newman from the picture: “I am glad it’s you.”