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Feature: Road to Perdition

The Road to the Oscars

Paul Newman and Tom Hanks

This dark revenge tale set in the 1930s US underworld sees Tom Hanks take on a very different role – and it’s one that could just see him and director Sam Mendes lifting up that famous statuette in 2003…

Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hit man for the Irish mob while John Rooney (Paul Newman) is Sullivan’s boss and surrogate father. Their sons, Michael Sullivan Jr (Tyler Hoechlin) and Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig), are each desperate to earn their fathers’ love and respect. And it was these strong and complex emotions permeating Road to Perdition that attracted director Sam Mendes to the project, “…I thought, ‘Here’s something that I can completely immerse myself in’. I believed in it totally as a story about fathers and sons; it’s about the legacy that fathers leave to sons and about the secret worlds that parents inhabit that the child never really knows. It had been a long time since I’d seen a serious gangster movie that wasn’t cartoony... I wanted to go back to some of those movies that had struck me that I’d loved when I’d seen them for the first time; not only movies like The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America, but also the Thirties and Forties gangster movies. Public Enemy and Scarface are magnificently unsentimental, simple, stories that stay with you, and that 70 years later are still acknowledged as masterpieces.”

Tom Hanks was also struck by the intricate characterizations the roles offered, particularly Michael Sullivan. “He had this rationale about what he does for a living; that’s supporting, protecting and providing for his family. And yet that house is a dark, oppressive place; it’s not a joyful home in any way, shape or form. Aside from his youngest son, who’s just a good and goofy kid, everybody else learns that there are all these things that you don’t mention, and so it’s a house that’s based on a foundation of denial. That alters the stakes of what goes on. If he’d been a guy that came home and played ball with the boys and helped them with their homework, or helped his wife do the dishes, I think it would have been a very different thing. It all goes into what happens in that moment when all of his rationale fails him, and the house of cards that he’s constructed for himself falls apart, and how that impacts everything else that happens in the movie.”

Paul Newman, who chooses his roles carefully, confesses that he was captivated by the part of John Rooney; the patriarch of the family, whose loyalties are tested by his surrogate son, Michael Sullivan, and his real son, Connor Rooney. “Rooney’s son Connor is a bad guy, and his ‘adopted’ son Michael is kind of a ‘good’ bad guy. Rooney is forced to protect one at the expense of the other, so it’s an intriguing conflict. He goes through an interesting progression in the film. He starts out robust and powerful and full of vinegar, and becomes a man beaten down by tragedy. It’s a marvellous part. The film, unlike other gangster films, was not really about explosions, it was about family and vengeance, and I can understand that. Not only understand it, but in some cases admire it.”

by Judy Sloane

Read the full interview in:
Film Review (Oct)

© 20th Century Fox
Feature © Visual Imagination 2002. Not for reproduction

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Film Review (Oct), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Oct)
#623, October 2002
ships from Sep 12 2002
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