Family Ties

Hell is where the heart is.

It’s a one-way journey, and Perdition isn’t exactly everybody’s dream destination, but this film makes the road to hell seem like a fantasy ride at Disney.

If there’s a well-made film, it’s one that can entertain through its evocation. And this is one such. With a plot that doesn’t go beyond a paragraph, "Road to Perdition" is essentially about every emotion and reaction that the key posts of the plot precipitate.

Michael Sullivan lives with his two sons, Michael and Peter, and wife, Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Illinois at the time of the Depression. A quiet man, he’s known to work for the most powerful man in town, John Rooney (Paul Newman). Sullivan is like Rooney’s surrogate son, much to the ire of Rooney’s own son Connor.

Michael’s got the perfect domestic setting, until his older son Michael Jr. witnesses his father’s night on the job, and watches Sullivan and Connor gun down a couple of men in an old barn. When discovered, his father assures Connor of his son’s silence, while Connor, fearful that the boy might eventually spill, breaks into the Sullivan house and guns down Annie and Peter. Learning that Connor is out to get him and his surviving son, Sullivan makes a run for it, heading out for a place called Perdition, stopping on the way to devise a plan to kill Connor himself.

About the blatant bonds of loyalty and cohesion that mark the relationship between a father and his son, "Road to Perdition" also maps the fine lines of jealously and admiration that drive a son to become like his father. Sam Mendes has poignantly pictured the emotional dynamics of an American family in his Oscar-winning "American Beauty", but the themes of this film denounce geological or racial boundaries and canvas the implicit bonds of family, both the inherited and the surrogate.

The ease with which profound dialogue interprets a given situation confirms the untouchable production skills of the team behindthis film. And if the screenplay is to rave about, the refined performances of every actor are beyond comment. Hanks is forceful from the word go; from his depiction of a loyal son to Roony, to a model father to Michael, he maintains a calm grit that makes you wonder at his constantly set face, a far cry from the comical "Forrest Gump". Newcomer Hoechlin seems unfazed by the legendary cast and delivers a performance that well resembles Hank’s own resolve. Even Jude Law, who plays Harlen Maguire, a photographer who shoots the dead by day and moonlights as assassin by night, lends a Machiavellian morbidity to his role.

Scoring top marks on all counts, this is one with heart, head and much muscle in its understated method.

This article was first published on 16 Oct 2002.