(12) 117min 000

A Depression-era gangster picture with solid American family values, this is the kind of classy prestige picture that impresses the members of the Academy Awards circle. It may also, like director Sam Mendes’ absurdly overrated Oscar-winner American Beauty, fool cinema-goers into confusing its moody self-importance for profound insight. For

Too soft around the edges

here are Big Stars (Paul Newman and Tom Hanks), Big Themes (Fathers and Sons, Loyalty and Betrayal, Sin and Salvation) and Heavy Symbolism (Water equals Death). The problem is that David Self’s schematic screenplay, based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, deals not in flesh-and-blood characters but in comic-book archetypes. So for all the film’s portentous religious imagery, the sketched-in characters are not so much fleshed out as merely coloured in.

Feared hitman Michael Sullivan (Hanks) is the trusted employee and surrogate son of Irish gangster and ageing patriarch John Rooney (Newman). When Sullivan’s young son, Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin), stows away in his car and sees him and Rooney’s natural son Connor (Daniel Craig) gun down some disaffected hoodlums, this tangled web of father-son relationships unravels, giving way to suspicion, murder and revenge. When the paranoid Connor murders Sullivan’s wife and younger son, John Rooney is forced to choose between his real and surrogate sons. Sullivan and Michael Jr go on the run, the guilt- ridden father determined not only to protect his son, but also to prevent the boy from following him down the, ahem, road to perdition. Hot on their trail is weasely press photographer and part-time assassin Maguire (Jude Law), who is hoping to add a snap of Sullivan’s corpse to his freelance portfolio.

Thanks to Conrad Hall’s darkly glistening cinematography, many of the individual tableaux are impressively staged and stunning to behold. Sadly, Hall’s description of Road to Perdition’s visual feel ‘lt’s not exactly film noir, more of a soft noir, if you will; soft shadows rather than harsh ones’ - might equally be applied to the film as a whole. Despite all the talk about Hanks being cast against type as a cold-blooded, tight-Iipped hitman, the portrayal of Sullivan is, like so much else in the film, soft at the edges. This special pleading is exemplified by Michael Jr’s na'r've voice-over, which forces us to see Sullivan through his son’s eyes and creates a sentimental distance between us and his murderous occupation. In essence this is a coming-of—age tale, in which Michael Jr realises that the father he idolises has feet of clay and learns through bitter experience that he must take a different road.

Although Hanks is deprived of his trademark quick-fire patter, his stiff body language and a limited palate of facial expressions convey the fatherly love and crippling remorse of an emotionally limited man. Newman’s Rooney is proud and magisterial, Craig’s Connor vulnerable yet cunning, Law’s Maguire sly and feral. If only Mendes’ empty, over-dressed spectacle had done justice to these fine performances.

(Nigel Floyd)

I General release "err: Fr“ 27 Sen. See '3

DRAMA AMEN (15) 130min coco.

Great sensitivity and a complete lack of sentimentality

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