"Road to Perdition" is interesting in many ways, but not all good. In some
respects, it exhibits characteristics that reinforces what is turning
out to be the current genre of the American cultural epic. Ironically,
these are the same characteristics that keep such films from being better.
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What makes "Road to Perdition" so American is the theme, mood and
atmosphere that appeal to our sense of "old Americana." Tom Hanks
plays Michael Sullivan, a right-hand hit-man of John Rooney, played
by Paul Newman, who is the mob ruler of a small Midwestern town during
the prohibition era of the 1930s. All is well and good, until one day,
Sullivan's son hides as a stowaway in his dad's car, witnessing the murder
of another member of the mob, who's been accused of skimming from the
books. The rest of the movie is Sullivan and his boy trying to escape
from the mob, all while establishing the father-and-son relationship
they never had.
Essentially, the movie was intended as a portrait of a family-man torn
between his love of his family and the loyalty to his mob boss. But,
the portrait was never completed. The problems with the film started when
it abandoned its heartland landscape and the slow moving rhythms of the
portrait of Sullivan, to a semi-comedic farce about a man and his son
on the run, robbing banks. In short, the film just got too simplistic
for that drama that it wanted to be.
The best parts of the film are the acting from Hanks, and the mood, tone
and general atmosphere of the movie overall. It's a great backdrop for
the intended theme; I truly enjoyed these sensations from an ethereal
point of view.
What makes this and other movies like it so American - and thus, effective
with American audiences - is how they portray what is now considered a
stereotypical American lifestyle. Oddly enough, it's one that hasn't
reflected the modern American family portrait in years. This almost
makes such films more reminiscent than modern. In "Road to Perdition",
as well as the recent "A Beautiful Mind", this aspect of Americanism
can only be accomplished by keeping things simple.
Yet, this is what makes these movies so shallow. They're too
simplistic. The relationship between Sullivan and his son were
never well-established, either in the beginning, or later when they
"bonded." This had to be done in order to retain the film's ethereal
"simplicity", making its mood and tone so powerful. But this at the
expense of depth and meaning. Same thing with "A Beautiful Mind." Nowhere
did we see the real trauma that John Forbes Nash experienced through his
real-life conflicts with other mental problems and sexual experiences
that were never shown in the movie.
While I enjoyed Perdition for its qualities, and enjoyed watching it in
the theater, I felt it ultimately lost its grip on its purpose, and was
ultimately more disappointed that it didn't live up to its potential.
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