|Its all been done before
Road to Perdition rehashes Hollywood to great effect
ROAD TO PERDITION
Starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Directed by Sam Mendes
There is nothing new under the sun. But when artists exploit this obstacle and rearrange old material, they can still evoke something worthwhile. The creators of Road to Perdition both the film version and the graphic novel it is based upon know this, and conjure the ghosts of Hollywoods finest films to create an interesting homage to the past.
While reading author Max Allan Collinss and artist Richard Rayners version of Road to Perdition we are likely to be struck by a strange phenomenon: weve seen Michael Sullivan before. Sullivan, dubbed the "Angel of Death" by the Midwestern mob family he kills for, is out to avenge the murders of his wife and son. He kills everyone who gets in his way, using any weapon or method thats handy. Whether hes outnumbered two to one or 10 to one, he is a man to be feared.
Yet readers cant help sympathizing with this very bad man. Why? Because weve seen him before and his familiarity mitigates the shock of his ultra-violence. On one page hes Montgomery Clift, on the next hes Vic Morrow, on others hes Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy or Marlon Brando. Even his enemies resemble some of Hollywoods finest: Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and John Barrymore. The characters of Road to Perdition are themselves an homage to Hollywood.
So what happens when Hollywood turns Road to Perdition into a movie? Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) gives us Tom Hanks the most beloved star since Jimmy Stewart as the merciless Michael Sullivan, and Paul Newman, the last of the old guard, as crime boss John Rooney. He gives us Jude Law, nearly unrecognizable in makeup, as an ugly serial hit man, and Vic Morrows daughter, Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Sullivans murdered wife. Thus, the film picks up where the graphic novel left off, replacing todays icons for yesterdays, opening the door for an even more impressive homage the re-filming of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) scenes.
The wedding scene from The Godfather becomes a wake, an elevated train tunnel replaces the belfry in Vertigo, the dinner table and asparagus bowl from American Beauty (Mendess Oscar-winning debut) make an appearance, the never-before-seen murder from Twelve Angry Men is staged, and when Sullivan is healing on a farm, there are even shades of Witness. Just as a familiar movie star appears on every new page of Road to Perdition, a familiar scene appears in nearly every frame of Mendess film.
So what does this all mean? Is Mendes simply blowing Hollywoods horn? Is he criticizing Hollywoods love affair with violence? Is he analyzing the U.S. need to avenge "terror"? Is he commenting on our enervation at the hands of a murder mythology?
The answer to these questions is not simple, but the fact that they are raised at all is a positive thing. Road to Perdition, in both its forms, is a fascinating invocation of Hollywood and, quite possibly, an equally fascinating criticism.