Tom Hanks is Hollywood’s nice guy.
Hanks is a family man in a town of two-month marriages. He’s the guy who walks the neighbor’s dog when they’re on vacation.
So the question on the minds of many for his new movie Road to Perdition was whether Hanks would be believable as Michael Sullivan, a hardened and cold-blooded hitman in a 1930s-era Irish mob.
But Hanks left little to be doubted, showing yet again why he is arguably this generation’s best actor. Even if this movie had a weak supporting cast and bad plot, which it doesn’t, it would be worth seeing for Hanks’ performance alone.
What Hanks does so well is provide Sullivan with a human face. Sullivan works as an enforcer for local mob chieftan and his father-figure John Rooney, played by Paul Newman (whose performance is brilliant as always).
Things turn bad for Sullivan when his son, Michael Sullivan Jr., played adequately by newcomer Tyler Hoechlin, rides secretly along with his father on a mission. The son witnesses Connor Rooney, the son of John Rooney, unnecessarily kill a man.
When the younger Rooney, played by Daniel Craig, finds out the Sullivan boy was present, he becomes paranoid and soon murders Sullivan’s wife and younger son.
This event sends Sullivan and son on a six-week path of revenge, constantly followed by hitman and “photographer of the dead,” Maguire, played by Jude Law. While Law’s role is small, he gives a haunting performance and provides a compelling contrast to Sullivan.
During the two-hour course of the movie, Sullivan amasses a body count of about 15, with several bank robberies thrown in for good measure. But Hanks and writer David Self pull the audience into the character of Sullivan, rather than his actions. The audience forgives the bloodshed and develops a level of sympathy for Sullivan. This sets up the bloody, dramatic, moving and emotionally depressing conclusion to the movie that is on par with the final 15 minutes of Hanks’ classic Saving Private Ryan.
Advertisers have dubbed Road to Perdition as the best gangland movie since The Godfather. While there may never be a gangster movie to outclass The Godfather, Road to Perdition calls on many of the same techniques that worked so well in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece.
The best of those techniques is providing hardened criminals with their caring, loving, more human side. There is a blue-collared, everyman feel to many of the characters in Road to Perdition and a solemn resign to the life they chose.
Also of note is the father/son acting relationship. Like Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in The Godfather, Hanks and Newman give a “passing of the torch” performance, and the moviegoer sees acting at its finest.
The only real disappointment in Road to Perdition is the performance of Daniel Craig as Connor Rooney. While the part does not provide him much depth, and he is forced to act with Hanks and Newman, it seems like he was barely on the job. Luckily, his screen time is limited.
While Road to Perdition is definitely worth seeing, the moviegoer must go to the theater with one caveat. While the screenplay throws in the occasional light moment, most notably Sullivan teaching his son to drive, the movie has a dark and solemn feel throughout. This is matched by its well directed, but depressing, conclusion.
So, if you’d like to see a well-made, yet tear-jerking movie, this is the one. But if light-hearted comedy is more your style, Will Smith and Adam Sandler are still hanging around.