Movie Review: Road to Perdition

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Hey everyone, it’s Kernook here. When I was asked to review this movie, I found myself rather surprised. The “Road to Perdition” is a strange film all things considered. I’d hesitate to call it a masterpiece, and yet I’d also say that it’s above average in quality.

This is a sad fact once you realize this is one of the last great roles that Paul Newman ever had. I’m torn with how to deal with this film, because if you just want a dark movie about crime, it’ll be good for that… trust me, there’s plenty of drama and violence to go around.

What it isn’t good for is trying to tell a thoughtful and compelling narrative. The film lacks restraint or remorse, hammering out tragic fates for all the characters with an intent that has no grace. It doesn’t care for grace, only hard and fast cruelty under the guise of loyalty.

If that’s something that interests you, then this neo-noir drama might be up your alley. That being said, it isn’t up my alley at all these days.

Like a vast many films of this nature, it likes to pretend to be intelligent. Even the name is absolutely pompous, like an art-house film without the art. Right off the bat, just by looking at the name religious symbology smacks us in the face.

In Christian theology perdition references a state of being in which there is no redemption. Think doom and gloom, eternal punishment and damnation here. “Road to Perdition” when correctly defined then, actually reads “Road to Eternal Damnation”.

I’ll let you decide which title correctly reflects the mood of the film.

With a name like that, I was expecting a little bit more class and a lot less convoluted nonsense. The film is a tragedy, but there-in rests the issue. I knew that going into the film. That means I had a baseline expectation, simply because of the title and the trailer.

With quotes in the movie like “None of us will see heaven”, and all of the Christian symbology, it pretends to be much more philosophical than it really is. There’s little in the way of mindful foreshadowing. The film would rather beat you over the head with its symbolism like a rock to the forehead… the movie might be aimed at adults, but there’s little in the way of emotional maturity here.

Of course, what good is heavy-handed religious symbolism without a firm disregard for it? Yes, that was a question asked in sarcasm…

These religious undertones are mixed with a healthily dose of brutality, extortion and murder. Several of the people in the film attempt to live a much more pious life. They simply fail so terribly that it’s entirely laughable in the first place.

the whole sordid situation is played under the context of a double life for Michael Sullivan, as if that somehow excuses him for his scummy ways.

Several characters are self-sacrificing in a way. The film seems to impart that for a great number of these men, the family unit is much more important than his own livelihood. On the surface, that might be true.

Yet these two themes clash in a way that offers very little virtue at all.

The film takes place during the Great Depression. Embroiled in a crime syndicate, the families are torn between hard crime and familial devotion. Three sets of fathers and sons struggle upon this precipice. 

Tom Hanks plays the enforcer Michael Sullivan, a member of the mob. Tyler Hoechlin plays his son Michael Jr., a mere 12-year-old boy. The curious child tries to discover what his father does for a living. One night, the wayward youth hides in his father’s car. Then, he watches a man be killed by mob boss John Rooney, played by Paul Newman.

This would be devastating enough for a good plot-line, but as I said, this movie knows nothing about being subtle. To avoid confusion, I’ll now be calling Michael Sullivan, the father, Sullivan… and the son Michael simply to avoid confusion…

John Rooney’s son Connor, played by Daniel Craig, is a member of the mob as well. Connor has been stealing from his father, and that’s the heart of this supposedly tragic drama. Sullivan holds John in high regard, treating him as his own father figure. This bond goes both ways. John treats Sullivan as a son… so needless to say, Sullivan takes issue with Connor in more ways than one.

A rather notable quote stands out to highlight this. Passed down from Sullivan to Michael: “Your mother knows I love Mr. Rooney. When we had nothing, he gave us a home.”

I won’t attempt to distill the rest of the plot into a few paragraphs. It would be rife with contradiction, none of it succulent or even engaging to ponder about. The movie just isn’t built for that kind of complex analysis.

The movie is directed by Sam Mendes, and it’s based upon a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner… the damn thing is heavily revised by screenwriter David Self. Take that as you will.

When I watched “Road to Perdition,” as a teenager, I liked it a lot. These days, as an adult, I find it to be absolute crap… it tries to debate complicated moral ethos with the brute force of a jackhammer. Sadly, that’s the point that really sticks out to me. Nostalgia can’t even save this movie for me under direct scrutiny.

It would be disingenuous of me to say otherwise.

This film has been compared to “The Godfather,” but you can’t compare these two works. It really grinds my gears when people even try to do that. They’re entirely separate films. While both of them deal with the pomp and circumstance about the criminal underbelly, one does so without false pretense…

I’ll let you guess which one that is.

Let me be clear here, The Godfather makes no bones about who and what the characters are… mobsters… criminals… bad guys! There is no guise of heroism.

However in “Road to Perdition“, that narrative gets muddied… all the way down to the move and the trailer itself. No, I’m not joking. The movie does want us to buy into that kind of misguided tripe from the onset. It’s even in the advertising.

All of the characters, good and bad, are neck deep in the mobster lifestyle… and none of them even try to choose a better path. It doesn’t matter that Sullivan wants better for his own son Michele, he has no valuable concept of what “better” even is.

Sure enough, Sullivan paved a road to hell, but under no circumstance could anyone say it was done with the best of intentions.

While “The Godfather” offers critical questions about loyalty and the option to choose one’s own path upon a silver platter, “Road to Perdition‘ spits on the concept. It refuses to take its own pious themes, religious undertones and family bonds seriously.

The class and integrity provided to the Corleone family in one film, is abhorrently denied to the Sullivan and Rooney families of the other film. That is why you could never hope to compare these films at all.

One is a true film about mobsters and the confines of that lifestyle. The other is a film about glorified street thugs with more firepower and gumption than common sense.

The only saving grace Road to Perdition has as a film is that if you don’t think about it, then it is an okay film to watch. If you just want to see a simple crime movie play out tragically with no forbearance at all…. well, this is the film for you. It’ll give you a decent movie night sufficiently as an entertaining criminal romp.

There’s nothing wrong with a standard popcorn flick, but this is not the popcorn flick for me. If I’m going to watch criminals take the spotlight, I expect a much better baseline respect for themes involved.

This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.

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