Road to Perdition
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      I love Tom Hanks.  He’s a real fav of mine.  But mentioning his name doesn’t make everyone want to see Road to Perdition .  Although I can’t really understand it, not everyone likes Tom Hanks.  On the other hand, as soon as I mention that Paul Newman is in it, I get unanimous interest.  Even though he is 77 years old, Newman still has those blue eyes and he can still act rings around almost everybody.  So let me just say that Road to Perdition stars Paul Newman.  This is only the second movie directed by Sam Mendes. His first movie, American Beauty was reasonably successful. It won Oscars for Best Actor (Kevin Spacey), Best Film and Best Director.  So what do you do for an encore?  Apparently, you make a gangster picture.

     I’m kind of burned out on movies about the mob and gangsters but this story is different.  Road to Perdition tells the story of a man (Tom Hanks) who is the enforcer for an Irish Gang in the Midwest led by an old patriarch ( Paul Newman).  Despite his job of maiming and killing, Hanks is a middle-class family man with a loving wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two young sons (Tyler Hoechlin & Liam Aiken).  All is well in Hank’s world until Newman’s son and heir apparent (Daniel Craig) kills an enemy while Hank’s son is watching.  Craig panics and decides that Hanks and his son must also be killed to hush things up.   Hanks escapes with his son to try and survive.  First, he visits famous bad guy, Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci), in Chicago looking for help.   But Hanks must help himself and to make matters worse, a hit man (Jude law) has been hired to go after him.  

      I won’t give any more away although I have to say that after 5 minutes of this movie, you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen.   Even at the end, when Mendes uses the usual tricks to try and fool you, you still know what’s going to happen.   This is the weakest point about Road to Perdition .  While American Beauty had a great script, I thought it was heartless.   Road to Perdition is the opposite. It is all heart while the script is pedestrian.   It still works though because the direction is so atmospheric and because of the performances by Hanks, Newman and Hoechlin.   Hanks, in particular, increases the acting range that he has already shown in such movies as Philadelphia , Forrest Gump , Apollo 13 , Saving Private Ryan and Cast Away . In Road to Perdition, he plays completely against type as the seemingly unthreatening man whose very name makes people fear for their lives.  Tyler Hoechlin who plays Hanks’ son does a very good job even though this is just his third film.  Paul Newman has nothing to prove but he is still a joy to watch.   Jude Law, the new great character actor,  works just a little too hard here producing a character with a few too many tics.   A couple of great actors are wasted on tiny roles here. Stanley Tucci gets about 5 minutes of screen time but is incredibly smooth as Frank Nitti .  Jennifer Jason Leigh gets off even worse as Hanks’ wife. She has about two lines.  

     This movie isn’t perfect but I liked it much better than American Beauty where I didn’t care what happened to the main characters.   Sam Mendes is a great director.  He didn’t just come out of nowhere.   He was directing plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company before coming to Hollywood.  And Hanks just draws you into his character because it is so nicely underplayed.   I expect he will get another Oscar nomination for Road to Perdition .  He’ll definitely be on my list.   But go see Road to Perdition even if it’s just to see Paul Newman’s baby blues.