Road to Perdition

Poster
2002
Sam Mendes

6/10 (style without substance)

I’ll keep it short since I’m in virtual agreement with most critics. Sam Mendes’ 1930s gangster follow-up to “American Beauty” misses the mark. He wants you to believe it’s a story about Tom Hanks’ henchman, Michael Sullivan, and his son, but the main character is really the cinematography. The photography is polished, precise and so altogether clean and well-executed that it makes the entire movie feel as sterile as the winter season in which it takes place. None of it feels natural or authentic. This is highlighted by the scene when they first drive into Chicago and there’s a CG-shot of the city, complete with a majestic flock of birds flying across the bridge. If I’d have rolled my eyes any harder they’d be permanently stuck in the roof of my head. The whole thing was just way too picturesque; it felt like overkill.

It definitely didn’t help that Hanks doesn’t consistently inhabit his character and that the kid can’t pull off the weightiness that his role requires. Hanks is good when he’s on, and he even pulls off a tough Chicago gangster with that awesome ‘stache and subtle under-chin paunch he’s got going. But then he lets out one of his familiar growls and you’re yanked out of the film all over again. Jude Law as a grimy, balding hitman was a horrible casting choice, though I’m normally a big fan. I understand if they needed to give him that incredibly distracting hairpiece in order to make him visually fit the graphic novel villain, but doesn’t it make more sense to just hire a different actor? On the bright side, Daniel Craig and Paul Newman were excellent, though unfortunately they only shared about 15 minutes of screentime total.

The score was cheesy and sounded like “American Beauty 2.” I will give Mendes credit for the climactic scene where Hanks walks straight up to Connor’s hotel room and wacks him. Very well done. But apart from that and the cinematography, the movie was so slick that the audience had no possibility of grasping onto it, let alone sinking their teeth in.

24 March 2010

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