March 30, 2020
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Road To Perdition

A beautiful elegy to a decaying world whose sadness lingers on.

Road To Perdition
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Starring: Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin
Director: Sam Mendes
Rating: ***


It's pouring incessantly. Mob's big daddy, John Rooney (Newman), and his trenchcoat-and-hat-clad gangmen are ambushed in the street by the renegade foster son and once-trusted lieutenant Mike Sullivan (Hanks). Rooney's shoulders slump poignantly in the face of his imminent death at the hands of a lost child. Sullivan's face cracks up with the realisation of the enormity of killing someone he loves. All along, no sound of bullets pierce the ears, only a gun flashes silently at a distance and sombre music plays on in the background. The only words exchanged are Rooney telling Sullivan: "I'm glad it's you."

It's one of the many stylised set pieces that are sprinkled all over Road To Perdition. Mendes presents gangster wars in a picturesque, lyrical mode with Conrad Hall's camera literally turning violent encounters into haunting musical compositions and exquisitely choreographed dance pieces. Each frame is like a glorious painting or a studio photograph wherein each element is painstakingly placed to create an impression of quiet and harmony underneath which lies an immeasurable turmoil. Ultimately, the son never pulls the trigger and American family values find thumping approval. But the predictable end can't take away from the film's remarkable visual and thematic coherence. Road to Perdition is quiet, sad, muted. To call it film noir would be merely stating the obvious. Yes, the dim and lightless colour palette dominates with its shades of black, white, steel grey, dreary blues, muddy browns and grim greens. However, Mendes takes his subdued vision beyond the bleak canvas. The film's emotional tenor is also self-consciously melancholic. Sentiments remain implicit, at times repressed and incommunicable, tears don't flow easily and grief's never shared. Mendes doesn't plumb the very depths of relationships. Like, he never verbalises the intimacy between Rooney and Sullivan. It's captured in a moment—the two playing the piano together. As if on cue, the central performances are also a study in restraint and understatement. The only characters with some flourish are Maguire (Law), the hideous hitman-cum-photographer who shoots the dead because it makes him feel alive, or Conner (Daniel Craig), Rooney's son who can't distinguish "his thumb from his dick". Road To Perdition is a beautiful elegy to a decaying world whose sadness lingers on.

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