Is Mendes bang on target with hitman's tale?

Preview by Jack Foley

IT MUST be one of the most daunting tasks a director can perform - following up a critically-acclaimed, Box Office friendly and Oscar-winning debut movie - but Sam Mendes appears to have done it.

Road to Perdition marks the follow-up movie to American Beauty and has already been hailed by American critics as one of the year’s finest, and one which should feature prominently at next year’s Oscars ceremony (not bad for a film released at the height of the US blockbuster season).

It stars Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law (among others) and is based on writer Max Allan Collins and illustrator Richard Piers Rayner’s serialised mystery comic novel for DC Comics, set in Depression-era Chicago.

Hanks, cast somewhat against type, plays hitman Michael Sullivan, a dedicated and professional assassin, whose loyalty is put to the test when one of the sons of his boss and father-figure (Newman) is responsible for the murder of his beloved wife and youngest son.

Setting out on the road to revenge with his surviving son, Michael Jnr, Sullivan is forced to confront what he has become and the inevitable toll that anyone in his profession must pay.

Mendes (a veteran of the Donmar Warehouse in London) has rekindled much of the visual style and panache for story-telling that won him acclaim for American Beauty, turning in another American classic in modern cinema.

It is a style which has won the praise of critics, audiences and the author [Collins] himself, even though he admits to being a little surprised about the direction the movie took.

Commenting in an interview with Book magazine, Collins said that the major difference between ‘my vision and that of the filmmakers, is that I saw this as a much wilder, bloodier ride. I basically wrote a John Woo movie, and Hollywood decided to make The Godfather instead. Which is cool, because The Godfather is cool’.

Audiences also agreed, helping the movie to take the number one spot at the Box Office in its second week of release, following strong word of mouth.

UK audiences can judge for themselves when Road to Perdition opens in August; although the queue is, no doubt, starting to form now.


Where to begin, really, as the praise was virtually unanimous. Entertainment Weekly awarded it a B in its rating system, declaring that ‘there's much that's simplistically grand, worthy, and fine in 'Perdition’, while said that it ‘soars above all possible expectations to deliver a weighty, thoughtful, and brazenly creative film, anchored by Oscar caliber performances from everyone involved’.

The New York Observer said that Perdition is ‘the best film of the summer, and already a contender for both the Oscars and my year-end 10 Best List’, while the New York Times said that it ‘inspires a continuing and deeply satisfying awareness of the best movies as monumental ‘picture shows’.’

And Rolling Stone said that it ‘has the juice to get its hooks into you, knock you off balance and keep you that way for two hours’.
There were the odd slices of criticism, but only the LA Times was really negative, saying that it is a ‘beautifully groomed and a perfect drag to be with’.

The New York Post felt that it ‘doesn't come close to living up to expectations’ (but still awarded it 3 out of 4 stars), while Village Voice described it as ‘grim yet soppy’.

But back to the praise. Two of the best commentaries came from internet site, and TV Guide and will serve as the perfect way to wind up this overview.

The latter said that Perdition’s ‘dark, almost mythic heart is what makes the film such an emotionally rich experience’, while the former states that ‘yhe visual touch that Mendes displayed in Beauty is in full effect in Perdition, and there are more than a few scenes that, though there's little or no dialogue, will leave you breathless’.

We can only wait…

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