ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language

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Directed by: Sam Mendes

Written by: David Self

(based on the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION by Max Alan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Liam Aiken, Dylan Baker & Ciaran Hinds

Try to think of nice guy Tom Hanks as a hitman. It’s not exactly an easy image to get into your head, let alone process how it might play out. Talented director Sam Mendes and versatile actor Tom Hanks pull of this unlikely feat in ROAD TO PERDITION. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, this film combines a father-son drama with a crime thriller. The result is one of the best movies from 2002!

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Michael Sullivan is a devoted husband and loving father who works closely with notorious mob boss/father figure John Rooney. His life is simple and he deeply loves his wife and two sons. When Michael Sullivan Jr. (his elder son) gets curious about his father’s mysterious work, he makes the shocking discovery that his father is actually a hitman for Rooney. This results in lives being lost and both Michael Sullivans (Sr. and Jr.) trying to get make it out of a bullet-ridden cat-and-mouse game alive, while also seeking revenge against Rooney’s gang.

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I was hesitating about details in that initial synopsis of this film. It’s very easy to give key plot points away that might come as shocking to someone who doesn’t know too much about this movie to begin with. I will say that the premise sounds simple on paper, but things actually get complex. With those twists and turns included, it never felt as if story was overly complicating itself. There’s a looming suspense that’s hovering over the whole film from the moment Hanks’s job is revealed.

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It goes without saying that if you have a movie where a son discovers that his father is a hitman, you’d expect the father and son to spend a lot of time together from that point onwards. That is the case here and it’s made all the better that their relationship feels real. Tom Hanks, though technically a bad guy, comes off as more of a concerned father than a cold-hearted killer. I never forgot what his violent profession was, but he was still a fantastic character. His job may have gotten his family into an awful mess, but I was rooting for him for the entire movie. Hanks breathes life into a character that was probably difficult to balance. A newcomer at the time this was filmed, Tyler Hoechlin (who hasn’t gone on to do much since) is phenomenal as Sullivan Jr. The pairing of Hanks and Hoechlin seems like a match made in heaven as they play off each other so well.

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Besides Hanks, a lot of other big names populate the cast. The best of which is Paul Newman (in his final live-action appearance) as Rooney. The late actor (who still had a joyful glint in his eye) excels in mafia boss role, injecting conflicted emotions that help the audience feel the struggle of his tough dilemma. Rooney isn’t just a cut-and-dried villain. He’s actually a sympathetic guy. You understand the appeal of working for a man like this and he’s also a father being torn apart by the sins of his son (played by Daniel Craig, pulling off a damn good American accent). The relationship between Newman and Craig is the antithesis of Hanks and Hoechlin, but there are also a lot of parallels that make things even more interesting. Stanley Tucci and Dylan Baker aren’t given a lot of screen time, but make the most of what they have. Then there’s Jude Law as the creepy Maguire. With long fingernails, thinning hair, and a devilish smirk, Law embodies a ghoul with a gun. As if that wasn’t enough to make his character terrifying, he also has an unusual hobby (shown in his introduction).

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To put the icing on the cake, the mood and atmosphere created in PERDITION is potent! If other directors had attempted to tell this story, they might have included tons of explosions and clichés galore. Sam Mendes opts for a more subtle approach and creates a quiet sense of tension that escalates in the more exciting scenes. It’s not all about brooding suspense though, as plenty of emotional moments (including a couple of devastating scenes) had enough impact to bring me close to tears. Adding to the mix is the awesome soundtrack from Thomas Newman, who seems to have constructed the music to fit the mood of each scene perfectly with a subtle pieces of music.

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Overall, ROAD TO PERDITION is not nearly as big today as it was upon its original release, but remains an amazing movie that still has a powerful emotional core. The premise might sound predictable on paper, but it moves into some pretty unexpected directions. Instead of just being a movie about violence, tragedy and revenge, ROAD TO PERDITION is more focused on fathers, sons, actions and consequences. This movie is perfect and I adored every second of it! One of the greatest crime films I’ve ever seen!

Grade: A+

COOL HAND LUKE (1967)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg

Written by: Donn Pearce, Frank Pierson

(based on the novel COOL HAND LUKE by Donn Pearce)

Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper

In the world of cinema, COOL HAND LUKE is probably the most influential prison film. It gave birth to a million clichés in this subgenre. The story may seem overly familiar for modern audiences, but these tropes sprung from this adaptation of Donn Pearce’s novel. Modern viewers might have a difficult time with the deliberate pacing and some scenes are a bit cheesy. However, the film remains a dramatic wonder that has aged remarkably well. The cast drives an iffy plotline with great performances. Paul Newman is Luke and he’s part of what makes this film so memorable.

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One night, Luke gets drunk and commits a silly act of vandalism. He’s caught rebelling with a cause (see what I did there?) by a police officer. A matter of time later, he arrives at an isolated chain-gang prison commandeered over by some vicious officers and a conniving warden. The sentence is two years and Luke makes an instant enemy with the leader of the gang, nicknamed Dragline. The tide changes when Luke earns the respect of his fellow inmates (Dragline included) through his cool antics and refusal to conform to the expected prison attitude, but the warden (simply known as the Captain) is determined to break Luke’s spirit at any cost.

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COOL HAND LUKE is pretty much a film that follows the actions of Luke and his inmates for the first half, then moves on to the title character being sadistically broken down in the second half. The film is considered by many to be a classic of the prison genre, but it also has pacing issues. This is mainly seen in the first half and the second half feeling like two completely different movies when examined in tone. The shift is a little jarring, but the second half is where the film went from decent to really good in the space of a few minutes. The first half of the film does feel unnecessarily long and disjointed from the (sometimes hard to watch) struggle of Luke that comes in the latter.

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Ironically, while Paul Newman is great as Luke, we aren’t given a whole lot of character development to the man. The first scene we see of him, he’s drunk vandalizing parking meters. The viewer is informed that he’s a war veteran, but that isn’t much character development. There’s a scene with his sickly mother visiting him, but again, we aren’t given enough information about Luke to really understand who he is. Newman plays off the role as kind of the cool kid in the classroom that everybody likes…except the teacher. The setting of the school was just moved into a chain-gang prison and the teacher was replaced with the warden in charge of running the joint. George Kennedy (who I primarily know as the chief in the NAKED GUN trilogy) plays Dragline and is a far superior character to Luke. A young Dennis Hopper also shows up, but I didn’t recognize him.

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The entire series of events involving Luke being beaten, punished, broken and rebelling against the establishment made the film worth watching. The first half takes a long while to get there. While there are plenty that will call this film a masterpiece, I have to call it out on some unnecessary scenes and weak character development behind Cool Hand Luke himself. None of the performances are bad (in fact, Captain is downright sadistic), but there isn’t much of a story either. The film feels like it’s just about a cool greaser-type going to prison and that’s about it. Overall, COOL HAND LUKE is worth viewing (if only to get other film buffs off your back). It’s a really solid film, but also has some problems that aren’t addressed nearly enough in all of the write-ups I see for it.

Grade: B+

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