I see Tom Hanks' basketball head, I imagine cutting it open
to reveal a cross-section of flesh and bone that resembles
the inside of a tree. I imagine 46 growth rings, some thick,
some thin, depending on how much he gorged himself that
year. The layer when he filmed Castaway, for instance,
is wispy and thin--all that dieting for the role. (Though
I'm not entirely convinced that his much-ballyhooed weight
loss wasn't digital trickery, so I'd examine that year very
closely.) The outermost rings are as wide as your pinkie
and slick with grease.
Hanks is getting fat, more figuratively than literally,
but still--fat. Lazy. His performance as hit man Mike Sullivan
in Road to Perdition is not a drastic departure for
the Second Coming of Jimmy Stewart; it's actually a predictable
progression. So what if he kills men in cold blood? This
is a "dark role" in the same way Ralph Fiennes in Red
Dragon was perfect for publicists and Premiere blurbs,
yet challenged neither the actor nor the audience. Hanks
in a period piece with a machine gun does not a "dark role"
Sam Mendes became a household name after directing the Academy
Award-winning American Beauty, a movie best viewed
as a self-conscious caricaturization of suburban life. It's
a bit of a comic book in its intentional superficiality.
This follow-up is overtly and more acceptably comic-bookish;
it's based on the 1998 graphic novel by Max Allan Collins
and Richard Piers Rayner.
1931. Prohibition. Tommy guns and model-Ts. Sharp suits
and lots of dramatic shadows. More Irishman than Chateau
on a Friday night. Mike Sullivan is the classic orphan character,
a kept man of sorts. Years earlier, he was taken in by mobster
John Rooney (Paul Newman), and given a life and livelihood.
In return, he acts as Rooney's heavy. Sullivan collects
on debts, enforces punishment ... that sort of thing. Rooney's
biological son, Connor (Daniel Craig), is the classic fuck-up.
He's short-sighted, hot-headed and forever standing in the
shadow of his informally adopted step-brother.
After Sullivan's elder son, Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin),
witnesses a murder, Sullivan's wife and other son are killed
by the younger Rooney. Father and remaining son then go
on the run together. Attempts to reconcile with the elder
Rooney fail, due to Sullivan's refusal to accept the murders
without exacting revenge. For six weeks, they crisscross
Illinois, engage in some interesting bank robberies and,
well, get to know each other.
Mendes remembers the intimidating power of his father. Dad
was a large creature, a mysterious beast who left in the
morning and came home at night, demanded a yes-sir brand
of politeness and showed little or no emotion in front of
the children. Dad's personal items--even the most mundane
pocket detritus, such as keys or a billfold--were mysterious
and charged with threat. Road to Perdition captures
that feeling, uses it as the springboard and carries it
through what's ultimately a decent father-son/buddy/gangster/road
Decent until the very last minute, that is. In the last
moment before the credits roll, Mendes almost ruins everything.
Everything has just wrapped up in good fashion, just as
you'd expect--no loose ends, no major surprises, no terrible
regrets. But then the sophomore director hands the mic to
young Michael Sullivan. In a mawkish closing voice-over
(that bookends his opening mawkish voiceover), Michael Jr.
proceeds to beat the audience over the head with an explanation
of the moral core.
It's enough to make you stand up and scream at the screen,
"Yeah, we get it. Mike Sullivan didn't want his son
to follow in his footsteps. Yeah, we get it. Mike
Sullivan was a good but conflicted man. Yeah, thanks, got
it. Right. Now, please let the credits roll."
But what else is to be expected from a Tom Hanks movie?
If, 20 years ago, Ridley Scott couldn't win his fight to
keep the voiceover out of Bladerunner, what chance
does the Spielberg-bound Mendes have? Let it slide. Better
yet, leave the theater as soon as you sense that the movie
is over, which is actually two minutes before the last scene.