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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Sins of the Fathers
by Diana Saenger

In the trailer for Road to Perdition, one of the characters says, "We choose this life -- and, because of it, we’ll never see Heaven." Another character requests, "Turn a blind eye to what I do." If such provocative dialogue fails to draw people to this untypical gangster film, then surely the presence of co-stars Tom Hanks and Paul Newman will do the trick.

Based on the graphic novel by Max Alan Collins and a screenplay by David Self, Perdition is the 1931-era story of fathers and sons from two different families whose future is determined by their complex relationship. Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a no-nonsense hit man for the Irish mob with a wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two small sons (Liam Aiken and Tyler Hoechlin). Paul Newman portrays Michael’s boss, John Rooney, the man who took him in and raised him along with his own son (Daniel Craig).

Unlike many gangster films, The Road to Perdition downplays blood baths and highlights motivations instead. Sam Mendes, Academy Award-wining director of American Beauty, doesn’t see the movie's father/son bond as unique. "I think it's the bond between all fathers and sons," he said. "The story is interesting because in protecting his child from finding out who he is and the job he's been doing for 20 years, a father destroys his relationship with his boy. It's only through tragedy that they get closer."

Set on a road of revenge, Sullivan and Michael Jr. (Hoechlin) head for a small town called Perdition. But Perdition is also a euphemism for Hell, and Michael knows he may have to pay the ultimate price to save his son.

Mendes wanted Hanks – an unlikely candidate for a dark role – to play Michael. "So much of Sullivan’s history was carried in silence," said Mendes. "That's why I think Tom was the right man for the role. He's such a brilliant actor in having the ability to carry a role without speaking."

How did Hanks feel about an image change? "You can't change an image," he said. "Your image is your image. Somebody called me an assassin with a heart of gold. The only thing that matters is the tangible connection that the audience makes with a movie when they see it."

The story of Road to Perdition isn’t extraordinary -- but the acting, photography and other production values are. Newman can still dish it out; Hanks delivers another incredible performance; Jude Law makes a great leap for his art as a press photographer/hit man; and Tyler Hoechlin, a 14-year-old in his feature debut, is outstanding. Chosen from 2,000 teenagers who auditioned for the part, Hoechlin’s fine work vindicates this casting decision.

"Acting-wise it was intimidating because Tom has done so many things with his career, as has Paul and Jude ," said Hoechlin. "But they’re such regular guys, so humble and down to earth."

Because of its great performances, superb direction, terrific costumes and exceptional cinematography by Conrad Hall, Road to Perdition is sure to be remembered come Oscar time.

(Released by DreamWorks and rated "R" for violence and language.)

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