And it is actually a very good story. In one sense, it's a "mob movie," since it involves American organized crime in the early 20th century. However, it's not a mob film like Coppola's Godfather series or Scorcese's "Goodfellas," which are great in their own right. Where those movies are ensemble films about a whole family, "Road to Perdition" is a much more personal story, about one man who discovers that it is too late for him to be redeemed and live a good life, but it may not be too late for his son. After his younger son and wife are killed, he sets out with his eldest son to find a new life for them both.
Though it was hard to picture him as a gangster when I first heard about this film, Tom Hanks was ideally suited to this role, and I can see why he was cast. I think he's a fine actor in many of his movies, but in "Road to Perdition" he really stretched himself. His character early on seems almost to lead a double life: a relatively normal life with his family, and his business life as an enforcer for his mafia associates. And yet he plays both sides well. At home he is obviously a loving father, though unsure and hesitant about how to reach his older son. He's far from perfect, but he plays a plausible man struggling with the realities of raising children. In his work, he is businesslike and professional. He is not brutal by nature, but he can be when the work calls for it. In the end, he's simply good at what he does. However, when the elder son hides away and witnesses his father at work, that all falls apart. The rest of the film shows Hanks' character trying to reconcile the two halves of his psyche, even as he's trying to find a safe place for his son, and maybe for himself. His struggles are real, and they are palpable. Hanks played it up just right, but not too much. I was impressed and pleased by his performance.
When I mentioned earlier that Sam Mendes abandoned his previous visual tricks for "Road to Perdition," that's not to say that it doesn't have its own visual style. Rather, what he did was to create a new style for this film, one which addresses its own needs more efficiently. Where "American Beauty" was a story told with flourishes and idiosyncrasies, as befit the theme of the film, "Road to Perdition" adopts a much simpler, more straightforward tone. There are moments of beauty and moments of brutality, to be sure, but only as much as fits the events of the story. The scene in which Hanks guns down a number of his old associates is strikingly graceful, handled with a light but serious touch. Without giving the end away, I can say that the final scenes were among the most perfect in the film, and leave the audience thinking about the conclusion long after the credits have rolled.
All this sounds like I really enjoyed the movie, and basically, I guess I did. I certainly don't regret spending time and money to see it, and I definitely enjoyed it while I was there. Technically, it's a strong story, skillfully put together. The acting was good all around. There were no major flaws in it that I noticed.
And yet, emotionally, it left me sort of flat. I think that in the end, it wanted to be a movie that moved the audience in some way, that made them feel. For me, it just didn't. It's funny, because I had the same problem with "American Beauty," and the only difference there is that I don't think "American Beauty" was trying to make you feel - it was trying to make you think. In that sense, it was a success. Which is not to say that "Road to Perdition" is a failure at all. I wouldn't say the movie failed, but I wouldn't say it completely succeeded either. When I think about it now, it just sort of... exists, neither a success nor a failure. I admire many things about it, from a technical perspective and a storytelling perspective. But, if indeed it was trying to make me feel something beyond the surface for the characters, then I can't say it did that for me.
Perhaps Mendes is a director who prefers to leave the audience's feelings to the audience. Rather than manipulating them with music or powerful visuals as other directors tend to do, he leaves the emotional side of the story to what the audience chooses to invest in it. "The audience makes the film," Peter Weir has said in the past, and perhaps this is Sam Mendes' theory as well. Regardless of the theory behind his style, his methods seems sound. "Road to Perdition" is a good film, and worth seeing. Perhaps any other judgments on it are best reserved for the audience to decide for themselves.
What did you think of this review?