Friday, November 17, 2017

Road to Perdition

The It Takes a Thief Blogathon is an event devoted to theft as depicted in the movies, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at the host site.

Road to Perdition
Cinemax viewing

In both the graphic novel and the film versions of Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks' character Sullivan (O'Sullivan in the book, but I'll stick to Sullivan here), on the run from his double-crossing mob boss Rooney, forces a wedge between Rooney and his Chicago ally Al Capone by robbing banks with their money. Sullivan shrewdly gives the bankers a share of the cash to ensure their silence. 

The book has a poignant scene between Sullivan and his son Michael where he explains this money will be Michael's one day, to do with as he pleases. 

Michael is overjoyed at the amount they have, especially since this takes place during the Depression, but Sullivan makes it clear it means nothing without their family, his wife and younger son, murdered by Rooney's son Connor.

I liked the film version, but thought, and still think, Hanks was miscast as Sullivan. The role needed a Clint Eastwood type. While Hanks can do tough-guy roles, I just wasn't convinced of him as a stone-cold killer, partly because of who he is. He's Tom Hanks! He wouldn't hurt a fly, would he?

If I was director Sam Mendes, I might have put Hanks in the Rooney role and had Daniel Craig play Sullivan, but that would've deprived us of a great performance from Paul Newman (one of his last, as it turned out) as Rooney, so maybe it's just as well.

In the introduction to the 1998 Paradox Press edition of Perdition, writer Max Allan Collins acknowledges how much truth there is to this tale: John and Connor Rooney (nee Looney) were real - a father and son who ran an organized crime business in the Iowa-Illinois Tri-Cities region.

Capone and Frank Nitti were real, obviously (Eliot Ness appears in the book too), and according to Collins, there was an actual enforcer whom Looney betrayed.

Perdition, however, is a work of fiction; for Collins, the fusion of fact and legend, as exemplified in films like Bonnie and Clyde, are what give it its strength:
...These things had really happened, right where I lived; there was a truth underlying the noir fantasy, more than moldy old books, musty magazines and library microfilm had ever brought to life for me... and that was where my impulse to develop what has been termed the "true-crime fiction" subgenre began.

Other movies about theft (an abbreviated list):
High Sierra
The Drop
Across 110th Street
Bob le Flambeur
Gun Crazy
The Town


  1. My husband loves to point out when a film set in an historical period plays with the facts or people involved as if it is a terrible thing. I have developed a shorthand glare which says "It doesn't matter. Shut up." The combination of truth with fiction heightens emotion, and we all know the difference between the two.

  2. You can't help it if you think you know the setting better than the filmmakers.

  3. I wondered about this film. I've never bothered to see it because Tom Hanks in this role sounded like a bit of a stretch to me. But it sounds like there's a lot going for it, and an interesting novel, too. Thanks in advance for the recommendation!

  4. I think you'd like it. Newman, like I said, is great. Very good cinematography by Conrad Hall.

  5. How interesting that an actor's persona can influence how much we like or dislike them in a particular role. Yeah, I have a hard time imagining Hanks as a killer. I've never seen the film but the stills are visually arresting. Have to get around to it soon.

    Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon!

  6. It was always thus, I think. Could you imagine Bogey doing Shakespeare, or Mae West doing sci-fi? They probably could have done it, but it wouldn't have felt right somehow. Same principle.

  7. It's been so long since I've seen this one that I don't remember it well. I'm glad you reminded me of it so I can watch it again.

  8. You reminded me to re-watch this movie again. I remember there were some things I didn't like there, but maybe you are right, maybe it was Hanks in such an "uncomfortable" for him role.


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