Crimes in Rocky Times
first time many hear the word “perdition” is in Sunday
school class when learning about Judas and his destiny of hell fire.
The tone of Road to Perdition is not much different from that of
the biblical story. The 1930s setting of the movie portrays a time
of major hardship, tension and desperation in American history.
Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) works for John Rooney (Paul Newman),
an Irish mob boss who exacts a heavy price for treachery. Sullivan
is beckoned to go on a job by Rooney with his son, Conner Rooney
(Daniel Craig) who kills a man his father did business with. The
trouble is Sullivan and Rooney are followed by Sullivan’s
oldest son, Michael, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), a rambunctious 12-year-old
curious about his father’s occupation. It is with Michael
Jr.’s curiosity that all of the trouble starts.
The Road to Perdition slowly evolves into a drama of loss, jealousy,
fatherhood, familial love, trust and the will of a father to save
the purity of his son. The acting was riveting and sometimes slapped
the viewer in the face. Cinematically this film is brilliant. Director
Sam Mendes uses suspenseful shots of open doors off of dark hallways
quite often, keeping the viewer effectively removed from much of
the sinister action.
Colors are purposefully dark and dull. While watching the movie
one is coaxed into visualizing Dick Tracy comics. Sullivan’s
family, before all of the calamity erupts, inhabits a “Leave
it to Beaver” or “Donna Reid” existence. The picture
places Annie Sullivan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as the perfect wife
that cooks a wholesome dinner and waits for the kids to come home
and Michael Sullivan as the stoic man who loves his family, but
shows it rather than says it.
Suspenseful? Yes. Exciting? Yes. Well done? Yes. But this movie
left so many people out. It is true movies that allow one to forget
the hardships of daily life – the frequency of movie-going
during the Depression proves this. But in Road to Perdition, women
barely exist outside their roles as perfect wives, waitresses and
prostitutes. And there were only three black people in the film:
the bell-hop, an extra and a prostitute.
This social climate may have been the case for some Irish immigrants
in Illinois, but it is disheartening to see a re-imagination of
this period with no social revolution. We know that many women weren’t
static automatons who only cooked dinner, and we know that millions
of black people were active members of a plethora of communities.
Yes, the movies are a place to forget and let go, but they are also
a place where stereotypes can be hegemonically reinforced. Road
to Perdition was mainly a story about the love between a father
and son, but the wet concrete of American white supremacy and patriarchy
are hardened by the characters and the plot.