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Road to Perdition
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Take your best shot! (No, I can't
believe I just made that pun, either.) 

With a who's who of acting talent such as Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Stanley Tucci, it is quite extraordinary that the star of Road to Perdition turns out to be its cinematographer.  Conrad L. Hall is a genius.  He can remind us, with something as simple as a long shot of a car driving down an old country road, that film can hold its own against any artistic medium.   

When you consider what Hall did for exceptional films such as, Searching For Bobby Fischer, Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke, and American Beauty, you know that his work, when combined with the right material, can be mesmerizing.  Auspiciously, for more undistinguished films that he ends up working on, such as, A Civil Action, Jennifer Eight, and the shockingly substandard, Road to Perdition, his incredible eye can remove the stink from celluloid shit and leave a roomful of "in-the-can" corpses smelling like roses.  I feel it's safe to say that without the incredible job Mr. Hall did on the film, Road to Perdition would have been a mid-summer, made-for-TV movie, quickly forgotten when the next season of Friends began.  

The acting in the film is more than adequate, but it isn't up to the level one would expect it to be with a cast of superlative actors like the one that is assembled here.  The screenplay is a humdrum revenge story that we've seen done hundreds of times, at least half of those times with Mel Gibson in the lead.  Most surprising is the plodding directing perpetrated by none other than Sam Mendes, who is obviously going through a sophomore slump after the rose-petal packed reverie that was, American Beauty.   

As with last year's wearisome, From Hell , Road to Perdition is a serious film based on a serious graphic novel.  With two duds in a row, both based on comic books (graphic novels) that I enjoyed immensely, I am starting to believe that the transition from serious comic to even more serious film is one that should no longer be attempted.  Both films cut out the fringe elements that made the comics they were based on entertaining, only leaving, and expanding upon, the book's core.  The problem with this approach is that once you remove the fringe elements of a comic book story -- the odd character quirks, the offbeat subplots, etc. -- you are left with a fairly contrived and predictable plot.    

It is obvious that everyone involved with Road to Perdition were doing his or her best to reach beyond "comic book" status.  The movie was meant to have a nice little "Academy Award Winning" label above its title.  They pulled out all the big guns for this one, and then almost every one of them backfired.  

Paul Newman, as John Rooney, has a finely nuanced performance that is shaved down to not much more than a glorified cameo.  Taking on the role of the elder Michael Sullivan, Tom Hanks comes across as nothing more than a nice guy with a big gun.  He doesn't appear comfortable playing the downtrodden gangster forced into a life of avenging his family while, at the same time, trying to raise his 12-year-old son.  Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing Sullivan's wife, is the latest in a long line of leading Hollywood actresses taking small, yet crucial, roles opposite Tom Hanks.  Stanley Tucci does alright with what he is given, but he isn't given all that much.  The only actor who really sparkles in the film is Jude Law, playing a creepy cameraman named Maguire.  He's equally sinister and serene, enveloped and enlightening.  He makes the movie more than the sum of its parts and I hope he gets that Best Supporting Oscar that was robbed from him last year for his performance as Gigolo Joe in the stunning, A.I..  

That being said, is it or isn't it worth taking a trip down the road to Perdition?  If you can tolerate the predictable plot, dowdy directing, and familiarity of the film, hop onboard once and drink up the scenery.  Conrad L. Hall has made sure to give you something visually compelling to look at during the ride, even though you may ultimately feel that there were more empty calories consumed by keeping your eye on the road than there was in the greasy buttered popcorn you ate while taking the tour.

 On a scale of 1-10?


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Text (Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].

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