I honestly have delayed writing this review for so long because I was terrified I would not do the film justice. Armed with my friend’s superior analysis which I will blatantly steal so you who missed this film will decide to see it, please let me assure you that it is a truly spectacular piece of filmmaking, fine craftsmanship, etc. It is a Tiffany diamond among JC Penny fine jewelry.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, mobster Michael Sullivan must rescue his child from Sullivan’s secret gangster life, protecting himself and his real family from those he used to call family. Human grace and brutality exist side by side. Yet although the film is rated R for violence and language, it is not a slapdash gratuitous gore movie like the Untouchables. The most violent acts in the film take place in contrast to serenity and beauty to amazing effect.
As director Sam Mendes proved with his American Beauty, the emotional landscape of unhappy men can be explored with tenderness. Cinematographer Conrad Hall (also Beauty) makes this movie *look* like a graphic novel. Not a comic book, but one of the serious graphic novels (like The Watchman) so overlooked these days. My friend likened every frame to an Edward Hopper painting; I thought Vettriano, but you see, the feel is of a rich painting. Even with motion, the colors and textures are so glorious they feel still and solid. We both went into orgasmic tizzies about the amazing lighting. It’s so narrow and carefully placed and gives such depth and contrast!
My friend was also astute enough (I wasn’t) to notice how many shots are through chinks and reflected in mirrors and in glass and so on…not so much that it felt like a gimmick, but enough to add depth to every shot. I had noted a Deakinsian quality to the film (Roger Deakins being my all time favorite cinematographer), it was so sublime to look at. Composer Thomas Newman (who wrote the music to Deakin-lensed Shawshank Redemption) recycles that film’s sound but it is so effective I can’t even be upset about it. I don’t know much about editing but I have read enough to know that this movie will be studied in the future for precise characterization and flow. It never seems slow.
I love the feel of everything. My friend gave me the scoop that they had actually had fabrics woven to make the textures and colors be as saturated as they wanted. Production designer Dennis Gassner’s name sounded familiar. I looked Mr. Gassner up on the old imdb.com and now he is my favorite production designer. Most of the films he’s done that I have seen have unbelievable production design. Wow.
I haven’t even gotten to the story or to our hero, Tom Hanks. In his AFI Lifetime Achievement tribute, it was clear that Hanks always has an element of humanity in him that we all connect with and instinctively love. Here’s Tom, a strong-arm for the mob, a gun-toting thug who commands fear and respect, who loves his kids but doesn’t make a big show about it. How can any actor make that role human. Hanks can and does. It’s surreal, but it works beautifully. It would be too hard to believe any level of that character’s internal battles if he was slick and cool and unknowable.
His son, Michael, played by Tyler Hoechlin, has not done many films yet but I hope he does. Walking the line drawn by Hanks, he was excellent, scared and brave, tempted by the glamour of the guns and terrified of the deeper consequences. Then there is Jude Law. Why cast someone so preternaturally beautiful as him just to make him ugly? The war of the ugly makeup with his own real face made his character somehow creepier and more unpredictable than if say, Clint Howard had been cast. Unpleasantly, Maguire’s portfolio of work is true-life death shots. Ick.
Without giving too much away, Hanks’ road to Perdition takes him through the basement of a church, filled with derelict sacred objects-cum-junk. The delicious symbolism of the scene and the actual content of the scene with Paul Newman-oh so tasty!
I quote my friend’s brilliance: Does watching excessive violence create the desire to do it? Or can it be used to horrify, to make one turn from it? Both, evidently. The end is a beautiful yet shocking dialogue on this whole concept. Go see it now, it’s what we always hope for in a film.
MPAA Rating R for violence and language.
Release date 7/12/02
Time in minutes 108
Director Frank Darabont