‘Road’ to greatness

Tom Hanks plays a mob hit man who must protect his son played by Tyler Hoechlin in the best movie of the year “Road to Perdition.”

Two intelligent, wonderful movies opened last Friday. One will get lots of press and hopefully will be seen by scads of moviegoers, which it fully deserves. The other will get less press and viewers, though it also deserves lots of attention.
“Road to Perdition” is the better of the two and it will receive many accolades. It may only be July, but it’s a shoe-in for Oscar nominations in many categories. It’s easily the best movie of the year so far and it will be hard to beat.

There’s also “Sunshine State,” playing only at Landmark’s River Oaks. It might not have acting legends like Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in it and a multi-million dollar ad campaign, but it too is a film that should not be missed. I was going to write about both movies, but each deserves its own review. So, John Sayles new film “Sunshine State” will have to wait for next week. But you don’t have to, go see both wonderful films soon and often.
Both movies are great because the writing is interesting and authentic, the acting is masterful and the directing is near perfect. This is especially true of Sam Mendes direction of “Perdition,” only his second movie. His first was the love it or hate it Oscar winning “American Beauty.”

My father asked me how I could think of “Beauty” as entertainment. I said it’s much more than entertainment, it is art and it is commentary on the times.

As with that movie, there is commentary on the times – the time is 1931 – and this is art in its finest film form. It also has people making life-altering decisions and there is tragedy, but Mendes’ latest is easier to love – probably because the times are different, our continued fascination with gangsters and, not to give anything away, the ending, if not really happy, does show promise of the future.

Like “Beauty,” “Perdition” is not always pleasant to watch, but it’s gripping and evenly paced like great literature, which draws you in and holds you close even as you realize something tragic is going to happen.

And tragic it is, so much so that I could not breathe at times I was so tense with anticipation, dread, fear and the excitement of knowing I was watching a great movie – a movie destined to be a classic.

As with great literature, there are multiple meanings or interpretations about many aspects of the story, starting with its title. Perdition means complete loss or ruin, to have lost one’s soul or hell, it is also the name of a town the Tom Hanks’ character, Mike Sullivan, is taking his 12-year-old son to for safe keeping while he avenges the murders of his wife and other son.

Each meaning has a place in the scheme of things. The movie is not just about perdition, it’s about pay back, redemption, blood loyalty and the relationship between fathers and sons.

Things go horribly wrong when the 12-year-old, Michael (newcomer Tyler Hoechlin), hides in dad’s car because he wants to know exactly what stern, serious pop does for a living. He sees dad and one of dad’s colleagues in action – killing people. Sullivan works for the head mobster in the area, John Rooney (Paul Newman), who is also a father figure to him.

Rooney has a son, but he’s not a good guy like Sullivan, if you can call a mob killer a good guy. This is another theme of the multi-layered film – can a man who does horrible things be a good father? Sullivan is very good at the job that affords him a nice house, but causes him much unhappiness. His unhappiness makes him distant from his son, until they have to work together to turn the tables on the mob and escape a hired assassin.
This is dangerous scary work, especially if you are a young man who has just lost his mother and brother. Hoechlin is excellent as Michael; often saying more with looks than words. Actually, the movie does not have a lot of dialogue, nor are there a lot of characters. Hoechlin is given a lot to do and he does it well holding his own with Hanks and Newman.

Newman is terrific. He ranges from being a sweet, mischievous grandfather type to being cold and menacing. The famous blue eyes have dulled in color with age, but they still have lots of glint and flint.

Jude Law (“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “A.I.”) is also quite memorable as the creepy killer Maguire.
But it’s Hanks who is most amazing. The kid may say a lot without speaking, well Hanks shouts, grieves, hates and loves while hardly saying a thing. His eyes, and his body tell it all. Could it be Oscar number three? Hanks has never played so cold before, but since it is him we know Sullivan does have a heart, even if he’s gotten too good at putting it away. Rated-R for violence and language