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Road To Perdition

THE MOMENTS of sadness come in spurts, the underlying sense of grief remains throughout the film, making it almost unbearable! If only it wasn't so good. Twentieth Century Fox's "Road To Perdition," is a brooding film about gangsters, relationships, specifically about fathers and sons, damnation and redemption, a haunting allegory about dying and aspects of living, defying expectations. ``The only expectation is that, people like us never see heaven,'' says one of the characters. It may remind you vaguely of the legendary ``Godfather" but rest assured, it is a drama that breaks out of that shadow. This one is impressive, uncompromising, a superbly crafted period film where the director (Sam Mendes) offers no comfort in terms of a catharsis. The journey is so foreboding, the destination nowhere in sight. It is one of those situations in life, when you need to examine what really constitutes good!

The film opens and ends with a poignant visual of a boy looking at the endless sea. And he asks, ``Was he a good man? All I can say is, and will always say, he was my father.'' And that line forms the basis of the entire story. With its lavish production values, glorious cinematography (Conrad Hall) and background score, good amount of suspense that only peters out in the climax, a top line cast (with Tom Hanks, in perhaps one of his best performances) this road to hell, is filled with some truly beautiful moments along the way. It creates its own world, own style, and its own detached, but compelling ambience. Twelve-year-old Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) does not know his father very well. Michael Sr. (Tom Hanks) is a shadowy mysterious figure who comes home late, leaves at odd hours and spends a lot of time tinkering in his garage. Maybe because that is where he keeps his main tool of the trade — a huge submachine gun. And that in turn is because Michael is the chief enforcer for the deceptively charming, ruthless John Rooney (Paul Newman). Michael owes John a lot, because he took him in as a boy and gave him a semblance of decent living. And he rears Michael as a son along with his almost psycho ridden offspring Connor (Daniel Craig). Michael's loyalty is unwavering and since his feeling are reciprocated by John (none of which goes unnoticed by Connor who feels shut out of his father's affections) like the proverbial Cain, decides to eliminate Michael. Events are set in motion when one night Michael Jr., curious about his father's activities, hides in his car while he is on an assignment with Connor. They are supposed to talk to a rebel when Connor losing his head, shoots him down. Forcing a chain of events leading to more deaths in a deserted barn - with Michael Jr as a witness to the carnage. It's a rude awakening for the boy, but at the same time everything about his father falls into place and matters become worse when he is sworn into secrecy about the killings.Things will never be the same again.

Soon Connor in a fit of drunken fury blows it. He sends Michael to another gangster with a secret message to eliminate Michael. That does not happen — Michael is just too fast — but not fast enough to save his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and second son (Peter Aiken) who are in the meantime shot by Connor. Father and son are the only ones left of this family and they have to run. Because no matter what, blood is thicker than water and the big boss would side with the son. The only way Michael and his son have a sliver of a chance of survival is by eliminating the very men he worked with. In other words, he has to kill the entire Rooney gang. Since he needs the help of his son, he also has to look deep into his soul to determine how far he is willing to go, before justice is served. But the Road To Perdition (where Michael wants to deposit his son with his aunt so that he has a chance for decent living) is full of pitfalls, as Michael finds he can trust no one. What is worse, there is a hit man (Jude Law) on his trail, a crime photographer who specialises in dead bodies — a truly creepy and memorable performance.

An overwhelming sense of fatalism permeates this film throughout. And this is what sets it apart from other gangster films that have dotted Hollywood through the years. Even at the start Michael has lost everything. Including his soul. But then something good comes out of all this — the father and son bond and finally Michael Jr gets to know his father and comes to respect him. By centring the story on Michael Jr having to learn ugly truths about his father, the film captures the moral ambiguity at the heart of this tale (screenplay David Self - adapted from a graphic novel of the same title).

In terms of performances, Paul Newman proves that age has nothing to do with intensity and his gangster image is that of a suave man, quite unlike the clumsy, heavy-footed men one has seen on screen in films of this genre. As for the others, their acting makes one feel as bruised as the dark tones of reds grays, browns and greens that colour this film. Can the intense love men feel for their sons, possibly justify the evils that they perpetrate? The film to its credit, does not even try to answer that. The director would much rather we make our own conclusions!

CHITRA MAHESH

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