Road to Perdition Review
By Joe Lozito
A "Road" Well Traveled
It's a shame the title "American Beauty" is already taken by director Sam Mendes' last film since his "Road to Perdition" is a somber work of art. Every frame feels like a perfectly composed still photograph; no surprise, then, that it's adapted from a graphic novel (written by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner). Oddly, though, the film feels as cold and distant as it's opening 1930s snowball fight.
Surely the ingredients are all in place for a moving epic: "Beauty" cinematographer Conrad L. Hall paints each frame with delicate swaths of light and shadow, "Thirteen Days" screenwriter David Self follows the path of the classic tragic morality tale, and 12-year-old newcomer Tyler Hoechlin convincingly portrays a conflicted son without a hint of preciousness.
And then, of course, there's Paul Newman and Tom Hanks, two of finest actors of their respective generations, both working at top form. Mr. Hanks gives his most subtle performance to date as a beholden hitman, doing more with a low, growling "mm-hmm" (when his son informs him dinner is ready) then a Gump-ful of "Lieutenant Dans!" Mr. Newman meanwhile is one of those rare older actors who seems to embrace every one of his 77 years. His sagging eyes, slow gait and hunched posture belie the fire in his Irish mob patriarch's soul and the few smiles he allows are a delight.
The scene which sums up the relationship between these two characters features a solemn piano duet with Mr. Hanks playing Mr. Newman's right-hand (naturally). It is a joy to see the two powerhouses giving the screen so generously to one another as much as it is a defining moment in the film. And maybe that's the real issue. "Road" is so beautiful, so well composed and so tidy in its sense of justice that it never quite gets its hands dirty enough to evoke any true emotion. All the moments occur exactly as their supposed to and exactly as we've come to expect them after years of "Godfathers" and "Unforgivens". It feels like a cheat in a film that ironically follows all the rules. It would have been nice if "Road'" had paved some new ground.