Road to Perdition – 3 stars

Road to Perdition.  Sam Mendes’ follow-up to American Beauty almost survives the miscasting of Tom Hanks, Jude Law’s overacting, an at-times leaden script, and an unhealthy preoccupation with slow visuals.  With all of that, Road to Perdition is also a beautiful movie graced by some very good and effortless performances by Paul Newman and Stanley Tucci (as mobsters working in the same organization), a haunting Thomas Newman score, and impeccable set design, art direction, costumes and cinematography.  But a film about fathers and sons cannot survive a child actor who does not resonate.  The actor playing Hanks’ son is not awful but he’s not very good either.  As our narrator, he simply doesn’t register, and as the guide to the life of his father (enforcer Michael Sullivan, played by Hanks), this cannot do. Indeed, the last line of the film is “He was my father.”

Hanks is also problematic. His character is a bit like Eastwood’s William Munny in Unforgiven.  He is supposed to have demons.  The way Sullivan is played by Hanks, however, is as more of an automaton.  When things are going well, Hanks seems grimly fine with family and pot roast and a solid 9 to 5 job committing violence on behalf of his boss and father-figure (Newman).  When things go poorly, you get the sense that Hanks doesn’t really have much to reassess.  He just seems sad that the easy 9 to 5 gig is up (and up in a rather cruel manner).  When he does soften, it seems too easy, like a swell guy has been just beneath the surface all along.

Hanks does have some moments, such as his meeting with Tucci, wherein he tries to offer his services in return for permission to exact revenge on his old employers.  But overall, I don’t think he was the right call.  Bruce Willis may have been a more apt choice.  Certainly Ed Harris.  The best choice would have been Chris Cooper.

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