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road-to-perdition-originalThe Irish mafia isn’t given nearly as much screen time as their Sicilian cousins. For every Miller’s Crossing there are three Godfathers; a Sopranos for every Grifters. Road to Perdition sees Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan, personal “Angel of Death” for Irish mob-boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). Sullivan, an orphan, had been raised as Rooney’s son, and carved a nice Norman Rockwellian life for himself, his wife and two kids. Each morning he has breakfast with his family in their lovely country home, before heading off to work to intimidate and kill Rooney’s enemies. Unbeknownst to Sullivan, his oldest son (Tyler Hoechlin) tags along on one of these missions, and sees exactly what his father does for a living. In a misguided effort to silence the boy Rooney’s son kills Sullivan’s wife and youngest boy. Revenge and the safety of his surviving son motivate Sullivan to hit the road. Road to Perdition is beautifully rendered look at 1930s depression era America. Director Sam Mendes has stayed true to the story’s graphic novel roots, and dishes up a spectacular looking film, one so finely detailed you can almost smell the gunpowder and smouldering cigarettes. Hanks is surprisingly effective as the strong silent hit man. His Sullivan is complicated, the actor subverts his natural likeability to present a man who is at once loyal and caring, but will put a bullet through your skull without a second thought. It’s a layered, subtle performance that moves away from the heroic characters that Hanks usually favours. Look for the supporting cast at awards time. Jude Law as a sadistic killer-for-hire shines, but it is Paul Newman that shows the rest of the cast how it should be done. His Rooney is a great cap to a distinguished career. I only have to wonder why an actress of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s calibre would take on the thankless and nondescript role of Sullivan’s wife. Is there really that little work in Hollywood for women that actresses of her experience must take whatever scraps are offered?

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