Road To Perdition

Sam Mendes probably had one of the greatest directorial debuts in cinema history. His first film, American Beauty, not only won many film-related awards, but has become something of a modern classic in the past decade. The sheer greatness of that film left many American audiences wanting more, and Mendes delivered in 2002 with his then-latest film, Road To Perdition. Sadly, Mendes' second film, while good, wouldn't prove to be nearly on the same level of quality as American Beauty.

The film, based on the graphic novel of the same name, follows Michael Sullivan, Sr., a hitman for the Irish mafia, and Michael Sullivan, Jr., the hitman's remaining son, as the father seeks vengeance against a mobster who murdered the rest of their family. Performing stealthy bank heists, teaming up with rival kingpins, and keeping a low profile, the duo set out to try and survive in 1930's America. With psychotic assassins and Al Capone's men to avoid, however, surviving won't be in this Depression-age film.

The reason that Road To Perdition isn't on the same level as Mendes' previous film is because, unlike the debut, this film feels very cold and detached from its characters. In American Beauty, we really got to know and love the characters of the film, despite their obvious faults and quirks. Each individual was strong, lovable, unique, and very well-written. In this film, however, we're presented with the cast of characters, yet we never really get to know any of them. They're interesting and have fascinating backgrounds, but the film keeps us at a certain distance from the characters so that we cannot connect with them on an emotional level whatsoever. It's like watching pawns on a chess board being moved - you see what's going on, but have no connection to anything that's taking place. It isn't until the last 20 minutes or so that we actually connect with the characters, but, by then, it's a bit late. Still, the cast is slightly interesting...

The cinematography, on the other hand, looks great. With a look that mixes crisp images with neo-noir, the visuals of Road To Perdition come out very, very nicely. I especially like the 'showdown in the rain' sequence, which takes place during the last 15 minutes of the film. It was calm and quiet, yet abruptly violent and melancholy - a well-directed scene indeed.

Also, as cold as the characters felt, I felt that the film had a good narrative flow. I'm not a fan of plot-over-character, but the sequences of events in the film certainly made it easier to pay attention to what was going on. Nothing seemed out of place or over-the-top, instead the plot flowed in a natural and very interesting way. The climax of the film, in particular, plays out very well.

Though Road To Perdition is pretty good, it's sadly nowhere near the quality of Mendes' brilliant debut. The cold characters and emotional detachment make it difficult to care, but the great visuals and nice plot somewhat make up for this. It's not a great movie, but the film's enjoyable for what it is.





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