I’ve been thinking about this Blogathon ever since I decided to take part and while I know why I enjoy the film I chose, I didn’t know how to convey it. While I think that maybe I have finally figured it out I must warn you that during this post I may dip into uncontrollable gushing and for that I can only apologise. All credit for this article goes to Caz at Lets Go To The Movies for this wonderful idea and I hope you enjoy reading it, but more importantly I hope it encourages more people to think differently about film and to watch an underrated classic.
A Little Backstory
Back in 2002 when I was 12 years old I didn’t have a clue about films, they were something my brothers watched together but I still spent most of my time reading my Agatha Christie novels. However come my 13th birthday I received a gift of four VHS tapes. They were carefully selected for me clearly because within them was the deeply impactful Blue Streak with Martin Lawrence and a film I had never heard of, a gangster film called Road to Perdition. What the other two films were, I have no idea, that has since gone from my memory. Road to Perdition however will stick with me for years to come. A film with so much potential upon release, I wasn’t party to any of the hype, any of the expectations, I went in cold and maybe a little young and knowing nothing, it changed everything I knew about storytelling.
The Film Itself
Telling the story of Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), the local muscle for Irish mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) who must take his son Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin) away from his life after he is witness to some mob business. While they try to escape the people hunting them they must find a way to work together despite the ocean between them and the differences between them.
Sam Mendes’ follow up to American Beauty, the expectations for this were huge and while most said it doesn’t live up to the expectations, this is a different tale, one more devoted to the idea of family than Beauty was. The illusion of a gangster film gives way to a love story between a father and son and how we can all be vastly different to each other and still love and understand each other. While the plot propels these characters to these realisations, they still feel real and earned. I’ve since come to realise that these kind of relationships, the ones about parents and children are rarely seen on film and when they are, they are squandered or mistold.
While most, if you have read my reviews, understand that I cling to the themes of a film more than the way it is displayed. That isn’t to say that I don’t love adventurous cinematography or emotional music but when I watch something, I want to learn about people, the people in the film and the ones outside of it too. Thankfully, Road to Perdition is blessed with both of these things. Not only is the score by James Newton Howard a soft but prominent component but the shooting style, some of the last designed by famed cinematographer Conrad L Hall is truly breathtaking.
I could point to exact moments but part of the charm of the film is being shown where these characters are going and riding the wave of music to a realisation. This is an all-encompassing feature, one that feels like one instead of parts of a whole. Tom Hanks, playing against type for the first time, provides an unspoken heart to an anti-hero that would be hard to root for in others hands and Newman (in his last ever live action performance) provides a gravitas that not only makes John Rooney understandable but a fine bookend to a stellar career.
These are just a few of the reasons the movie works, others are easy to see upon viewing but it doesn’t really explain what about it is so special that it made it so important to me personally. Sure I love the music and how it looks but it doesn’t really explain why for every film I have watched since that I have clung to the notion of what it says, who it is, what identity it has. A film can be amazing but it’s rarely ever life changing.
A Little More Backstory
While I could put it down to the fact that the film is a dynamic approach to telling a story about dysfunctional families, it’s not just that. I love stories like that but for everyone I watch I can’t attest to be forever changed by them. I know that deep down the truth is more personal. I know that when I was 13 my relationship with my father was contentious at best and he worked more than I saw him. It’s hard now that I’m grown up to ignore the similarities. I didn’t have to go on the run from mobsters or kill to stay alive but some of the subtler moments, the quiet times between father and son hum with a realism that is oftentimes unbearable. For someone like me, that was hard to ignore. Not only did it link me to the film but it also bound me to the idea that films speak to everyone in different ways and they are not only subjective to the viewer but have different effects on you at different times in your life.
The Film That Started It All
When I first read Caz’s advert for bloggers to take part in her initiative I had a moment when I contemplated choosing a different film, 2013’s Upstream Color. While Road to Perdition sparked a love for what films could do, Shane Carruth’s follow-up to time travel film Primer symbolised a realisation that there were many different languages film could use to tell a story. If Mendes taught me the emotional resonance of film, Carruth taught me the technical. The reason I chose Perdition as my final choice is that I think the most important element of film is how you feel about it, not how you perceived it. I love movies, every element and every type (although I struggle with horror mainly due to my own timidness) but it all means nothing if it doesn’t sink its teeth into you, dragging you into their world and making you feel something about your own. That is what the story of Michael Sullivan did for me and I hope if this compelled you to watch it, it does something similar for you.