July 12, 2002
Section: Rochester Living
Page: 1C, 8C

FILM REVIEW
Jack Garner
Staff
DC

THE HIT MAN
Going against type, Hanks excels as a bad guy trying to do right by his son

BY STAFF FILM CRITIC

JACK GARNER

Crime boss John Rooney ruefully tells his chief henchman, Michael Sullivan, ``None of us can make it to heaven.''

``My son can,'' Sullivan replies.

To try to save his 12-year-old boy after the kid inadvertently witnesses a mob assassination, Sullivan must hit the road. If Sullivan has his way, his boy will live to choose another kind of life.

Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a bad man trying to be a good father - and diverting his son from a similar life of crime might be his one good deed in a lifetime of murder and mayhem.

Director Sam Mendes - who follows his Oscar-winning debut, American Beauty - has created another sublime gem, one that plumbs rich emotional depth in a moody tale of Irish-American gangsters.

You'll be tempted to label Road to Perdition a gangster film, but the writers use the 1930s crime world as a suspenseful backdrop for a study of the complex relationships between fathers and sons.

Crime boss Rooney (Paul Newman) has a weak and ineffectual grown son named Connor (Daniel Craig), who messes up nearly every assignment he gets.

Connor is also jealous of the way his father favors his chief aide, Sullivan. The henchman is an adopted son and has been part of the Rooney household since he was an orphan dropped on the doorstep.

Though the film is being released at the height of the normally brain-dead summer season, Road to Perdition should lead to a bevy of Oscar nominations. It gets top marks in every conceivable category - acting, cinematography, art direction, costumes and music.

Hanks brings a weighty resignation to the first substantial dark role of his career you believe he's capable of murder.

But you also believe he will do anything to save his son and point him in the right direction.

Newman also is fabulous in a smaller but important role as the powerful, complex Rooney. The crime patriarch oozes the charm of a colorful and generous grandfather but can turn on a dime and order your death.

The supporting performances also are stunners - especially newcomer Tyler Hoechlin as Sullivan's boy, Jude Law as a squirrely degenerate hired to hunt down Sullivan and Stanley Tucci as the suave but deadly Chicago gangster Frank Nitti.

The literate script by David Self is based on Max Allan Collins' graphic novel and offers more emotional resonance than you might expect from an adaptation of a so-called adult comic book.

Mendes gives the film a darkly poetic style. He and the great veteran cinematographer Conrad L. Hall have created memorable images of heightened reality amid the shadows and rain of winter in Illinois in the 1930s.

The film's realistic costumes include dozens of 1930s-style fedoras, created by Dave Brown, a local hat maker with a shop at 3054 West Henrietta Road. It's the latest of a long line of prestigious film assignments for Brown.

Thomas Newman's moody score combines the spooky intensity and rhythmic pulse of Bernard Herrmann with the lovely lyricism of Elmer Bernstein.

The summer of 2002 may be remembered for the inordinate amount of intelligence and artistry that hit the screen in what is normally the dumbed-down movie season - such films as The Bourne Identity, Minority Report, Insomnia and K-19: The Widowmaker.

But the best of the lot - by a mile - is Road to Perdition.

E-mail address: jgarner@ DemocratandChronicle.com

Road to Perdition

Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman.

Director: Sam Mendes.

Opens today: See movie listings, Page 4C.

Length: 111 minutes.

Rated: R, violence.

Web: www.road toperdition.com.

Jack's rating: With 10 as a must-see, this film rates

10

PHOTO CAPTION

The cast of Road to Perdition includes Paul Newman, left, as a crime boss Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan, his main henchman and Jude Law as the man hired to hunt down Sullivan.

DreamWorks Pictures / Twentieth Century Fox