SPOILER ALERT: This review contains plot elements
If you were to compile a list of the greatest gangster movies of all time, the ones that would immediately be at the top of the list would be all-time classics like The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), and Goodfellas (1990).
2002’s Road to Perdition rarely even appears on said list.
The film is an adaptation of Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner’s graphic novel of the same name. While the film received critical acclaim upon its release, it is often overlooked as an underrated film in the gangster genre.
The film follows Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), a loyal hitman for Irish-American mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) during the height of the Great Depression in the United States.
After Sullivan’s son (Tyler Hoechlin) witnesses a murder committed by Rooney’s son (Daniel Craig), the pair go on the run pursued by the law and his mob boss.
Exquisite Cinematography and Direction.
The film is beautifully shot and directed by Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes. The cinematography by Conrad L. Hall is stunning, with every shot meticulously crafted to create a haunting and melancholic atmosphere that matches the film’s tone.
Mendes’ direction is restrained and elegant letting the story and the actors speak for themselves.
The film’s use of colour is also noteworthy with muted and desaturated tones that add to the overall sense of sadness and loss.
The star-studded cast is spectacular
The performances by the star-studded cast is outstanding, led by powerful performances by Tom Hanks and the late great Paul Newman.
When you take a look back at the filmography of Tom Hanks, Road to Perdition doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
Kids will remember Hanks from films like Toy Story and Big, while parents reminisce with his inspirational and Oscar-winning performances such as Forrest Gump and Philadelphia.
In contrast to this, Hanks excels in his portrayal as the cold and ruthless hitman. He brings a sense of depth and complexity to the character, making him both sympathetic and terrifying.
Newman, in what was his last big screen role before his passing, is equally excellent as the aging mob boss, torn between loyalty to his surrogate (Hanks) and his biological son (Craig).
The chemistry between the two is palpable, and their scenes together are some of the film’s most powerful moments.
The performances from the supporting cast are also fantastic. Daniel Craig is terrific as Rooney’s young and brash son Connor, eager to prove himself to his father and the family.
Jude Law is chilling as the forensic photographer/hitman Maguire who is hired by Rooney to kill Sullivan and his son. What transpires is an epic game of cat and mouse between the two ruthless characters.
Road to Perdition also explores the themes of family, loyalty, and betrayal that sets it apart from other gangster films.
The relationship between Sullivan and his son is at the heart of the film and their journey together is both emotional and suspenseful.
The film also delves into the complicated dynamics of a criminal organisation where loyalty is tested and betrayal can lead to deadly consequences.
The themes are explored with subtlety and nuance making the film more than just your typical gangster movie.
A chilling and emotional climax
No great film is complete without a great ending, and Road to Perdition is no exception with a final masterpiece of tension and emotion.
Without giving away any spoilers, the film’s climax is beautifully directed, shot, and edited. The performances from Hanks, Law, and Newman are outstanding and features a fitting conclusion to a fantastically underrated film.
If you a fan of gangster movies, or of just great filmmaking then Road to Perdition is a must-see.
Photo by Dion Stergiopoulos