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Director Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition

Essay by   •  October 22, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,007 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,460 Views

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Director Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition is the officially-approved US film of the moment, overwhelmingly endorsed by the media and starring "America's favorite actor," Tom Hanks. An unstated assumption is that the movie's pedigree makes it an obligatory cultural or quasi-cultural experience for certain social layers. It is a gangster film with darkened images meant to impart an art-house quality. Set in the early Depression era, it is also insinuated that a social insight or two can be found lurking in the shadows.

Road to Perdition, even more than Mendes' previous much-acclaimed film, American Beauty, is fool's gold. The filmmaker has once again wrapped up crude banalities in shiny tin foil. But at least the latter film made some pretense at critiquing American materialism and careerism.

Adapted from the comic-book novel (the third major film adaptation of a graphic novel this year!) by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, the film centers on father-son relationships in the upper echelons of an Irish mob in Rock Island, Illinois in 1931. Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is the right-hand man and surrogate son of gang chief John Rooney (Paul Newman). Sullivan's older son, Michael Jr., witnesses his father and Rooney's son Connor (Daniel Craig) machine gun dissident gang members.

Connor's long-time jealousy toward Sullivan now finds an "excusable" outlet: he kills Sullivan's wife and younger son, whom he mistakes for the young Michael. Michael Sr., knowing that Rooney will protect Connor, turns to the Capone gang, run by Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci), in Chicago. Although Sullivan is viewed as an asset and commands much respect from his underworld cronies, Nitti is protecting Connor and hires a killer to dispatch the unrelenting elder Sullivan. The Michaels, father and son, head for a relative's home in a town called Perdition, hotly pursued by Maguire (Jude Law), a psychotic assassin who kills his victims and then photographs them. The Sullivan's six-week journey and struggle for survival form the film's core.

The biggest problem with Road to Perdition is that it is false from beginning to end. In the first place, the film depicts some imaginary breed of gracious and principled gangsters. In an early sequence, Sullivan comes home to his beautifully understated house, with an adoring wife and two perfectly normal children waiting for him. It is the picture of an ordinary middle class family. One forgets, or is intended to forget, that prior to walking across the threshold Michael Sullivan has been out murdering people for his equally charming and respectable gangland boss, John Rooney.

A description in the movie's screenplay highlights this point. Michael Jr. is "watching in silence, cautious yet fascinated by the mysteries of a father's ritual. ... Sullivan removes his cufflinks and places them in a box of his personal things ... removes his tie and gracefully lays it on the bed ... takes off his jacket, revealing a holstered COLT 45, removes the holstered gun and places it on the bed." In fact, this loving father and husband is nicknamed "The Angel of Death."

The portrayal of mob czar Nitti as a respectable and fair-minded businessman is equally ridiculous and reprehensible. Nitti, known as The Enforcer, ran the crime syndicate while Capone was in prison in late 1920s and early 1930s (he eventually committed suicide in 1943). This is the sort of company Nitti kept:

"In 1933, Frank Nitti's leading labor terrorist, Three Fingers Jack White, recruited Fur Sammons to help fight the Touhy gang in the labor wars of 1933.

"It was an excellent choice, Sammons was a certified psychopath and a killer and he took enormous pride in both these facts. He specialized in

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