Graphic Horror: Road to Perdition
Road to Perdition 2002
It’s time to finish off my participation in the Graphic Horror Blogathon with a bang by covering one of only a small handful of actually well received and well known comic book adaptations that I have yet to cover here on this site. And while it isn’t exactly a horror film, Road to Perdition does have enough thriller elements and more than enough striking visuals that I’m glad to share it as part of this project. It’s the story of a mob hitman on the run while simultaneously out for revenge, but more than that it’s about the relationship between a father and son and how they end up connecting with each other though these trying circumstances. Not only that, but this is one of the most acclaimed and star-studded comic book movies out there starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and an early role from the man who would be James Bond Daniel Craig. It’s an amazing film, and if you haven’t seen it before, definitely seek it out before reading this, as I will be delving into this film in its entirety spoilers and all.
The heart of the story revolves around Mike Sullivan played by Tom Hanks. He’s a mob enforcer, and the surrogate son to the mob boss in this small town in the 30’s during the same time when Capone ran Chicago. Mike has two children, Michael and Peter. It’s also interesting that through the entire movie, it was always the father that was referred to as Mike and the son who was referred to as Michael, rather than ever calling him Mike or Michael Junior. Usually, it’s the younger of the two people that go by the shortened name rather than the long version. Anyway, Michael is very curious about his father’s rather secretive job, and when he does sneak onto one of his missions he happens to see the murder of several people. And due to this, his mother and brother are killed, and he and his father have to make a run for it as they are being targetted as well. The name of the film comes twofold, as it’s the name of an even smaller town where Michael’s Aunt lives out in the country where he can hide out for a while. And of course, it’s also another name for hell which Mike thinks he is leading his son toward through his job and his actions.
What’s really important throughout the film are the father son relationships, and not just the one between Mike and Michael. It’s set up quite early that Mike is like a surrogate son to Paul Newman’s Rooney. Unfortunately, he does have a real son, Connor played by Daniel Craig who is not exactly the chip off the old block, in fact he’s stealing from the family and covering up his transgressions with dead bodies. While the relationship between Rooney and Mike is a very warm and fatherly one, the relationship between Rooney and Connor is much colder and filled with disappointment. Paul Newman plays this role wonderfully, how Rooney wrestles with the honest care that he feels for Mike, while still unable to ignore the familial obligations to his true flesh and blood, no matter how disappointed in him he truly feels.
But the true heart of the film is the growth of the father son relationship between Mike and Micheal during their road trip around the area, to Chicago and back and eventually to Perdition. During the early scenes, Mike is rather distant to Michael, showing more affection to his younger brother Peter. Michael calls his father “sir” rather than something more affectionate. But as they spend more time together, they grow closer and open up to each other in subtle ways. Michael eventually drops the “sir” and starts calling him “pa”. There are some nice touching moments like when Mike is teaching his son how to drive so he can be the getaway driver. It really culminates during the scenes when they take refuge in a small farmhouse after Mike has been shot in the shoulder and they have a very awkward conversation that is as much bonding as they can expect from each other. But what Mike really wants out of his son is for him to not follow in his footsteps. As much as Michael seemingly idolizes what his father does, and even reads his Lone Ranger stories, it’s not the life that Mike wants for him.
There are a couple other sub plots deftly woven throughout the father son moments. While Mike is on his quest for revenge against Connor for killing his wife and youngest child, he is also unraveling a bit of a mystery about some of the inner workings of the mob headed by Al Capone. And as he gets closer and closer to the truth about what Connor is doing, he’s also being tracked down by somewhat of a rival hitman played by Jude Law hired by another high level mobster Frank Nitty. Law plays very much against type as this extremely weaselly photographer with a morbid fascination with death. He’s got this atrocious combover and tends to walk with a bit of a hunch. But there’s this coldness about the way he handles himself that makes his character all the more frightening.
In a film about the mob and hitmen, the violence is generally kept to a minimum. And when it is done, it’s either very quick, or it’s shown partially offscreen or via a reflection. One of the most fascinating moments of violence in this movie is the final act of revenge where Mike is led straight to Connor who is completely unaware and essentially helpless in a bathtub. But the audience doesn’t get to see the act itself, merely the aftermath as the mirrored bathroom door swings closed to momentarily reveal the bloody aftermath of the shooting. Throughout the film, the violence is never glorified as something heroic. But instead, it’s something that’s done only when it is necessary, and the weight of it is always felt. During the first killing in the film, the first one that Michael sees through a crack in the wall, it’s done unexpectedly and the victim falls to the ground in slow motion. When Mike brings out his Tommy Gun, it’s not something he does with glee, it’s something very deliberate as he solemnly takes the pieces out of the briefcase to assemble it.
What really struck me about this film were the striking visuals throughout, the shadows are almost another character in the way they are used throughout the film. The shadows and the rain are both important elements that permeate the look of the backgrounds and characters here. There is quite a bit more that could be delved into with this film, from the themes and visual elements, to the score and many other things. But it all comes together beautifully, and I’m glad that I finally got around to seeing this one. It’s already jumped to one of my favorites and I look forward to watching it again very soon. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.