It is sad that this film has been compared to "The Godfather." "The Godfather" showed us the politics of the mob within the context of family. "Road to Perdition" shows us the context of family within the politics of the mob.
Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan in 'Road to Perdition.' (DreamWorks)
"Road to Perdition" tells the story of Michael Sullivan Jr. and six weeks he spends with his father (Hanks). Sullivan Sr. is the muscle and gun behind the John Rooney mob in a small Midwestern city.
Rooney (Newman) has a son named Connor who is everything that a mobster's son should not be: greedy, careless and too quick to kill. Sullivan, on the other hand, is everything that Rooney would want in a son: loyal, thoughtful and grateful.
At the movie's beginning, Michael Jr. doesn't know what his father does for a living. Michael's brother, Peter, wants him to go on one of his father's "missions for Mr. Rooney" to see. What Michael sees is Connor kill a man in cold blood.
Connor tells his father that Sullivan's son has seen him commit murder. Connor believes it best to eliminate the Sullivan family, and he attempts to set Sullivan up. Thus, events are set in motion that lead Sullivan to take his son to Perdition, Kan., to save him from John Rooney.
"Road to Perdition" has the makings of a Shakespearian tragedy. People live in a world that runs them instead of them running their world. Things happen and no one seems to have the power to stop them. In fact, this theme has run through many of the summer's movies, including "Lilo and Stitch" and certainly "Minority Report."
"Road to Perdition" also has many religious elements to it. Sullivan is a man with deep faith. He wants to believe in the power of grace. We see him at a wake, praying for the soul of a dead friend; in church asking forgiveness for the things he has done; saying grace with his family before each meal.
Sullivan's powerlessness to affect his life runs parallel with his hope that God will forgive a man who does evil in order to feed and protect his family. Sullivan feels he owes Rooney for everything, including his house.
This is a movie about family, specifically about fathers and sons. Rooney declares that sons are placed on the earth to trouble their fathers. Sullivan doesn't believe this. He wants his son to live in a world where nothing is predetermined; character—not circumstance—makes the difference.
Hope is central to this movie, as evidenced by an outstanding scene of confrontation. Sullivan has told Rooney that Connor has been stealing from him. Rooney declares he will do nothing because Connor is his son. Then Rooney says: "There are only murderers in this room, Michael. Open your eyes. This is the life we chose. The life we lead. And there is only one guarantee—none of us will see heaven."
Sullivan replies, "Maybe Michael can go." That's the hope that underlines this movie.
"Road to Perdition" offers great performances. Paul Newman proves again why he is one of our greatest actors. Tom Hanks becomes a man of morality doing immoral work. Jude Law plays a hitman who is nothing more than the rotting death he loves to photograph. And newcomer Tyler Hoechlin ably holds his own in this company.
"Road to Perdition" is the best film so far this year.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: David Self, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner
Cast: Michael Sullivan: Tom Hanks; John Rooney: Paul Newman; Michael Sullivan Jr.: Tyler Hoechlin; Maguire: Jude Law; Connor Rooney: Daniel Craig; Frank Nitti: Stanley Tucci; Annie Sullivan: Jennifer Jason Leigh