Story by Jack Foley
WHEN Tom Hanks announced that he would be playing a hitman for his next role,
in Road To Perdition, a few eyebrows were raised.
Could the man behind such all-American nice guys as spaceman Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and, of course, Forrest Gump, possess what it takes to convince as a stone-cold killer.
And what made the star decide on such a sudden, dramatic change of image?
"I remember thinking that here is this movie that should be predictable
but is utterly unpredictable," reveals the star, when talking about what
drew him to the project.
"That, coupled with the realities of what it was going to take to make this period piece I wondered who they could get to do it justice.
"It turned out to be Sam Mendes. Chatting with him, I knew we would be in the hands of someone who could tell the story the way it needed to be told."
And while Hankss admiration for his director is of the highest quality, Mendes is equally gushing in his praise of the actor.
"How can you not admire Tom Hanks?" he asks. "Hes an amazing actor, but whats even better than having a great actor is having a great actor whos never before done what the part is asking of him.
"Michael Sullivan is a very dark, very mysterious man, and not at all accessible to the audience, at least initially. He is someone who carries with him a sense of guilt and regret for the life he has led, but this regret is never stated; it is just felt and seen.
"What Tom is able to convey in silence is extraordinary, but then, that would be my definition of a great screen actor."
Hanks concurs with Mendes on this point and felt drawn to the character of Michael Sullivan from a very early stage.
"While I was reading this, I actually thought of the verse from The Bible that says, He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind, and thats what happens to Sullivan.
"Hes married, the father of two, and has one of the bigger houses in town and its been paid for with fear, intimidation, violence and blood. Now hes in the midst of something he should have known was coming, but somehow he was able to block out the reality of his world and believe it would have no consequences and, of course, it finally does.
"At the moment were dropped into the story, it is literally the last day of that false perspective."
Hanks also liked the way in which the story examined the relationships between fathers and sons and feels that, as much as anything, the movie is about that moment when the truth is revealed, when you see the flaw in the man you considered to be your father.
"How do you deal with it?" he asks. "Is it the shattering of your world, or the beginning of a new understanding of the failures we as human beings all have? Does it draw you closer to the man you viewed as the reason youre in the world, or does it drive you away from that person who is responsible for who you are? Its fascinating stuff."
It was the same aspects of the story which compelled Paul Newman to get on board. As Mob boss John Rooney, the Oscar-winner is eventually forced to choose between his good surrogate son, Michael Sullivan, and his bad real son, played by Daniel Craig.
"He [Rooney] goes through an interesting progression in the film," says Newman. "He starts out robust and powerful and full of vinegar, and becomes a man beaten down by tragedy. Its a marvellous part."
Producer Dean Zanuck is also keen to stress that Road To Perdition is as much about father/son relationships as it is about the gangster genre, even though the Mob elements play just as big a part in shaping the lives of its performers.
He said: "Michael Sullivan and his son start the movie apart from each other, but a terrible turn of events brings them very much together. Its an emotional journey as much as a physical one that they go through.
Co-producer, Richard Zanuck adds: "Its an exploration into a mans relationship with his son, and of how a fuller and more meaningful relationship is brought about by tragedy. That is the crux of the story."
And the final word on the subject goes to Mendes: "At the centre of the film is a relationship between a father and a son, but there are actually two fathers and two sons. One of the great ironies of the film is that, although the two fathers love each other, in each having to protect his less favoured son, they are set on a course of mutual destruction.
"That is the core of the story: two men protecting their children. In the end, what can be more important than that?"