"No Rest for the Wicked"
What You Need To Know:
Tom Hanks stars in ROAD TO PERDITION as Mike Sullivan, an Irish Catholic hit man in a small town outside of Chicago. Mike takes his wife and two young sons to an Irish wake at the home of his notorious mob boss, John Rooney, played by Paul Newman. Rooney gives a eulogy, but the dead guy’s brother is still upset because Rooney’s own son killed his brother. The next night Sullivan’s son, Michael, decides to see what his dad really does for a living, and he witnesses his father taking part in the murder of the angry brother. This starts a chain of events that demonstrates the very different paths that Mike and his son will eventually take in their lives.
This is a beautifully filmed movie with a top-notch director and all-star cast. The movie is a fascinating study in the dangers of “rules without relationship” in religion and the desperate need for good fathers. Although the movie shows that the wages of sin is death and damnation, it fails to carry through its redemptive worldview to its logical conclusion. ROAD TO PERDITION also has some script or story problems and contains strong violence and foul language.
(CC, B, FRFR, AbAb, PaPa, LL, VVV, S, AA, DD, MM) Mild redemptive worldview with some genuine prayers to God in Jesus’ name, some lauding of the Scriptures and biblical morality in a Roman Catholic, works righteousness context, but only a mild moral effect is shown on the main adult character’s life from this Christianity and there’s no ultimate reliance upon, or strongly positive outcome from, Jesus Christ’s justification and sanctification; about 16 obscenities and 3 profanities; intense gangster violence with numerous murders and shoot outs, including some blood; no depicted sex or nudity, but scene of scantily-clad prostitutes in back of nightclub; alcohol use, drunkenness and selling illegal liquor; smoking and man appears to take some kind of drug; and, strong or solid miscellaneous immorality includes gambling, lying, stealing, cheating, betrayal, parental neglect, and protagonist who kills his enemies, partly for revenge and partly to protect his son, says, “I’m sorry” to his son, but his words ring somewhat hollow.
Who really knew Mike Sullivan? “Some say he was decent, and some say he was no good . . . In 1931 I got to spend six weeks with him . . .” Thus begins the story of ROAD TO PERDITION, narrated by Michael Sullivan, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin).
Tom Hanks stars in the movie as Mike Sullivan, Sr. Mike takes his wife and two sons to an Irish wake at the home of the notorious mob boss, John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney gives a half-hearted eulogy for one of his guys that he had murdered for suspected betrayal. The guy’s drunken brother reads a poem and then turns on Rooney, crying, “You rule this town as God rules the earth. You give life, and you take it away!” Mike and some other fellows quickly grab the brother away and toss him out. Rooney gives two of them – his own son, Connor (Daniel Craig) and Sullivan – orders to “talk” to the guy the following night.
That evening Michael Jr. explains to his little brother, Peter, that “dad goes on dangerous missions for Mr. Rooney.” Michael tries to absorb himself in his “Lone Ranger” comic book, but his thoughts run wild. He decides to hide out in his father’s car and see for himself what, exactly, his dad does for a living.
Sullivan and Connor drive to the home of the angry brother of the deceased, and when “talking” doesn’t work, Connor puts a bullet through the man’s head. Michael sees it all from his peek hole, and he slumps down in horror. His father and Connor find him, and Connor gives a subtle threat that this must all be kept quiet. Sullivan takes Michael for a ride and explains to him that, “When we had nothing, Mr. Rooney gave us a life, a home.” He lets his son know that he wants a good life for him but that he must show loyalty to one who has so fathered him throughout the years.
Michael is shaken but continues with his studies at his Catholic school. All seems to be normalizing when suddenly he finds out that the mobsters have killed his mother and brother. Suddenly, he is forced into hiding with his father, and the two scramble out of town together, planning to go to the home of Mike’s sister in law in a town called Perdition. From there, the movie describes the lengths that Mike will go to save his own son from Rooney, who is connected to Al Capone’s gang in Chicago, including Frank Nitti, Capone’s eventual successor.
ROAD TO PERDITION is a beautifully filmed movie with a top-notch director and an all-star cast. The art direction is superb, and the filmmakers were not afraid to take risks such as letting there be long, artistic pauses between lines of dialogues. After all, the rule is “show it, don’t say it.” Newman and Hanks are near the top of their acting game, and the supporting actors are very good.
Although these things may get the movie a lot of attention at Oscar time next March, the script and story of this movie leave a little bit to be desired. One important subplot during the second half of the movie, for instance, is completely forgotten by the end of the movie. Also, the movie handles its two major redemptive themes of good versus evil and the relationships that can develop between fathers and sons in a way that is not totally aesthetically pleasing because it’s somewhat confusing and unsatisfying, in a cathartic sense. For example, near the end of the movie, Tom Hanks’ character says, “I’m sorry,” to his son, but only after he’s taken terrible revenge on his enemies. Also near the end, the son says that, when people ask him whether his father, the hitman, was a good man or a bad man, he says in narration, “I just tell them he was my father.” This statement does not seem to be a very ennobling way to sum up a person’s life. The Truth is, of course, that we are all sinners who can be saved only by the Grace of God, through faith in the historical Jesus Christ, who died for our sins (Ephesians 2:8-10 and 1 Cor. 15).
Thematically, ROAD TO PERDITION follows DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA YA SISTERHOOD and the recently re-released CINEMA PARADISO in the portrayal of “religion without relationship.” In all three movies the characters are bound to the practice of strict Catholicism, yet their religion brings them no life or transforming power. In ROAD TO PERDITION, the characters attend Mass and take communion, then they drink and gamble. They pray for their children, then they shoot a guy in the head. They attend church faithfully, yet know they are hell-bound. They take bloody revenge on their enemies, then they show love for their sons and ask forgiveness.
ROAD TO PERDITION also follows many recent releases such as LIFE AS A HOUSE, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS, HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, and many, many other movies in its portrayal of the insatiable need of children to know the love of their father. In this movie Michael adores his dad, flaws and all, and reveres the six weeks of intense time they spend together, though it is marked with running, fear, violence, revenge, and lawlessness. There is no attempt, however, to link Michael’s feelings for his biological father with the personal relationship that everyone should have with their Divine Father in Heaven.
Despite this lack, the movie clearly tells viewers, in a subtle way (perhaps too subtle), that it is better to be on the road to Heaven rather than on the road to Hell. Thus, the movie reflects the biblical truth that the wages of sin is death and damnation. Hence, the title of the movie, ROAD TO PERDITION. Yet, though Paul writes in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death,” he also writes in the same passage, “the gift of God is eternal life in (or through) Christ Jesus our Lord.
ROAD TO PERDITION is a fascinating study for Christians in the dangers of “rules without relationship” in religion, and it is a clarion call for the church to pray that the “hearts of the fathers would be turned to the children.” MOVIEGUIDE® finds that Hollywood is well able to portray the important moral and redemptive issues of our day; they just don’t have the necessary moral and spiritual answers that can really help people improve their lives and prepare themselves for the Day of Judgment. God will ask all people to give a final accounting on that Day. And, He will not use any “fuzzy math,” Wall Street accounting firms, or Hollywood CFOs!
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