Sam Mendes’s latest American yarn, Road to Perdition, is as well-told and every bit as complacent as his American Beauty. Adapted from the Max Allen Collins graphic novel of the same name, the film is hyper-stylized enough to do justice to its birthright. Set to Thomas Newman’s outstanding, tribal-symphonic score and anchored by Mendes’s static compositions, the film’s operatic violence feels as if it’s been lifted from the cells of a comic book. The director’s evocative use of color (here, the blood red tint of a freshly painted getaway vehicle and the lampshades from a seedy fuckclub) is every bit as impressive as the monochrome glory of the film’s key shoot-out sequence. Whatever passion the film’s color palette excites for its 1930s American pastoral is seemingly negated by inconsistent characterizations and a slippery thematic grasp. With their respective roles as a queer accountant and a grimy hit-man/photographer, Dylan Baker and Jude Law evoke cartoon villains lost in a straight-faced gangster yarn. Playing the son of Paul Newman’s mafia boss, Daniel Craig so obviously wears mischief on his face that he might as well have been hand-drawn. The economy of the film’s dialogue suggests that it’s been lifted verbatim from Collins’s dialogue bubbles yet the delivery by the film’s all-star cast lacks punch. Mendes drowns the film in religious iconography (churches, Bibles, holy beads, statues of Mary and Jesus) but he seems to say relatively little about Michael Sullivan’s (Tom Hanks) road to godliness (or, rather, godlessness). Since the film works best as performance art, the preposterous father/son relationship mechanism at the heart of the film feels like an afterthought to all that blood on the wall. (Imagine what John Woo or Takeshi Kitano could have done with similar material.) If Perdition‘s glam is seemingly compromised by hesitant performances and the poor extrapolation of its metaphors, the good news is that Mendes is conscious enough of the hokey melodrama at work here to focus mainly on the narrative’s effective, delicately staged vengeance procedural. One cutesy montage shows Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) learning how to drive; Mendes stages this transitional sequence with a simplicity worthy of a comic strip, proving that he’s entirely more comfortable evoking mood than he is negotiating the original text’s simple narrative thrust. Mendes perfectly engages ganster/noir idiom but for every evocative spray of blood, the story still carries about as much weight as a 12-year-old boy’s book report on why he loves his daddy.
- Sam Mendes
- David Self
- Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Dylan Baker
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