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Analysis of Sam Mendes’s Movie ‘Road to Perdition’ Term Paper

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Updated: Dec 21st, 2021

Sam Mendes’s interpretation of Max Allan Collins’s graphic novel, Road to Perdition (2002), has been filmed in keeping with the best traditions of gangster movies. In this respect, the movie is spiced with particular scenes full of shooting and seeking revenge (as in the scene between Harlen Maguire and Michael Sullivan) among the main heroes. The perspective of the film pertains to several themes which Sam Mendes tried to amplify.

The whole observation of the development of actions prescribed in the movie goes along with a good adaptation of the screenplay by David Self. With the use of solely American themes of the Great Depression and overall social and economic pressure on Americans, the film is screened in genuinely dark and grey colors. It was done by the director in order to deliver the drama of the main character. In fact, the genre peculiarity of the movie runs across the symbiosis of several different trends in movies, such as crime, adventure, drama, and thriller. However, it is better to focus on the drama genre of the movie. The tense plot of the movie incorporates features of bloodshed shooting and many other defiant scenes so as to describe the way the violence is shown in terms of genre uniqueness.

As a matter of fact, the film describes the typical story where the themes of revenge, death, cruelty, and ignorance of human values are all over. The protagonist Michael Sullivan Sr. (Tom Hanks) becomes a victim of misunderstanding (or better to say mistrust) on the part of Connor Rooney.

As a result, the innocent death of Sullivan’s wife and son gives him no choice but to seek vengeance. As the film stars many of the great actors, a special uniqueness is in the fact that Tom Hanks is recognized here to play the first cruel role of a bad guy. “He’s an anti-hero to a degree, and as the story unfolds he does become a cold and calculating killer bent on revenge” (Wehner 117). To say more, the peculiarity of genre coherence in what Mendes put through personal vision is in the seriousness of Tom Hanks’s role.

In contrast to other criminal movies, such as The Godfather and Public Enemies, this film is accomplished by scenes rich in violence. Sam Mendes did really emphasized the influence on the viewers by representing Tom Hanks in an “uncharacteristically dark role” (Fairbanks 301). This maneuver contrasted the framework of the expected effects by a spontaneous emergence of what was not expected at all. The film adheres to the cruelty of the genre.

However merciful are the offenders, Michael Sullivan wipes up with everyone more or less related to his tragedy. Here a viewer can acquire different treatment of the protagonist’s action: positive, for the murderer should be punished anyway; negative, as this is amoral and too cruel to be done by solely one person, especially done by so gentle and inoffensive actor as Tom Hanks is.

The main attention should be paid in this respect to the rainy, foggy scene when comes to the final part of Sullivan’s “road” (Kirsner 138). Thus, the implementation of the overall gist along with real events in Chicago of 1930s provides a genuine coloring of the plot along with the transition of the corrupt and unlawful city’s atmosphere at the time. The fact, that Road to Perdition was filmed in Chicago delineates the effect of the truthfulness of different scenes in the movie (Ebert 558). Thus, the initial idea of the script fits the genre of the film with points on drama and crime.

The setting of the film and its particular attributes as for guns, money, banks, murders is typically coherent with the idea about America in times after “Black Tuesday.” Thereupon, the audience for this movie should be aware of the events following the Great Depression in America. It is vital to know that unlawfulness of gangs cannot be stopped or reduced totally. It was a time of turmoil that gave ground to anybody daring to reach the top. It could be done therefore through going along the Road to Perdition. Such an assumption is straightforward for those who adore movies of this kind. However, the difference lies in the set of values that are predominant for the main character. The setting and visuals are constructed so as a viewer gets deep into the uniqueness of the film by the way the entire perspective is incorporated.

The script follows the aim of attaining the effect of logical end-ups in the story of Michael Sullivan. However, his pathway is full of unexpected traps and tragedies which give him more motivation to get around to Rooney. Moreover, he makes Al Capone and Rooney lose their temper by embezzling syndicate’s money from banks. This has been done by the main character in order to evoke justice by dint of moral and economical ruination of the mob emperors of Chicago in the early 1930s.

The anti-hero who is Connor Rooney is full of the same violent attitudes toward Sullivan but based on the initially warm relationships between his father John Rooney (Paul Newman) and Michael Sullivan Sr. The plot is very fascinating, but it is better to be ready for the psychopathic intentions of Harlen Maguire (Jude Law). Being an assassin, moreover, hired by Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci), he terrifies by bloody cross shootings in which he takes the main part. These characters move a viewer toward an idea of how loose gangsters were at that time. Everything was interrelated, so to speak.

The audience should get ready to get high rates of emotional excitement while watching this film. It is not that it is the same “piece of cake” as compared to other gangster films. By contrast, Sam Mendes worked out the “algorithm” of constantly ascending rage in the development of actions in the film. At this point, the rainy scene culminates the cruelty and the main episode in the movie. It is a sort of payback that characterizes the purpose of Sullivan’s living on earth at the moment.

On the other hand, it is the compilation of the whole idea in the film patterned with symbolic dark colors and watershed figures of the gangsters at a deal (Wehner 117). Hence, the setting of the movie is appropriate for the mature in terms of the decadent era of the Depression in the history of America. However, the film is unique for incorporating specific scenes of violence and speculation of the main characteristics that make the movie different. It is especially seen on the idea of making it similar to Lone Wolf & Cub. That is the difference.

The fact that the movie was translated from the graphical novel by Max Allan Collins should erect special concerns. The question is that the novel was in turn influenced by Japanese almost similar kind of graphical art in literature, known as manga or gekiga. Thus, the scope of characters in a graphical novel by Collins is mainly composed of the bad guys who seek personal ideals by means of unmerciful murders. Focusing on the emotional disgust, the author wanted to hypothesize the affection on the main hero after being broken down by the disaster of his whole life. In fact, it is something like having been described in Tarantino’s saga Kill Bill 1, 2. That is gekiga in part. On the other hand, Rodriguez’s Sin City personifies the same ideals and setting but in darker colors and with more horrible evaluation.

Sam Mendes could have dared to implement the peculiarities of manga (Lone Wolf & Cub, particularly) in order to make it different compared to what other directors were excited to do in their films. The idea is that running the gamut of American history, Mendes found out noteworthy features in it. Of course, it was influenced by the facts which took place in Chicago in the early 1930s. Thus, to better get the idea of the movie, one should take a glimpse at both Collins’s and Mendes’s creations.

Comparing them and dwelling on their main ideas, one can get the gist of the reasons for publishing graphic novels, on the one hand, and screening the movie, on the other hand. All in all, it is the characters that resemble many features of pulp fiction in this movie. Along with the graphic novel, it creates a juxtaposition with what makes Road to Perdition that unique.

The overwhelming idea of the novel and movie, in particular, might be understood through the fact that it is a struggle between Michael Sullivan and Harlen Maguire. It is a fight between assassins of different ranks. Being a hitman, Sullivan becomes even more severe as pertaining to his enemies. He sees no other way for Rooney as to be dead as soon as possible. This motivates him to scope out the best way to get the bosses of the Chicago mob. It may be strange that Sullivan is extremely successful in doing what he plans to do. The same is in terms of Collins’s graphic novel which to a degree responds to the manga Lone Wolf & Cub.

To extend the frontiers of rhetoric on Road to Perdition, one should also encompass the meaning of the title. It is thought of to be the way to silence and safety after the inevitable dangers of life. After the fatal deaths of almost the whole family of Sullivan, he takes the advantage of different ways to trade for Connor Rooney. That was the sticking point that illuminates the vengeance growth in presumably revengeful person, meaning Sullivan’s occupation. “Now he heads out, with the younger Michael, on the road to the place of the title, literally Hell” (Fairbanks 302).

This feature of the main hero, his decisiveness, proves his personal success in reaching out to what was planned primordially even paying a high price in blood and in his own life. Suchlike motives are plain in graphic novels. Thus, the counter the influence of both authors, Max Allan Collins and Sam Mendes, derived from the earlier founded trends of manga.

By dint of Mendes’s work, Road to Perdition has gained its popularity with the audience more due to the rhetoric of the main heroes. There is no secret that every word and phrase incorporates a specific message of the director which is aimed at undergoing through a viewer’s consciousness. To make it plain, each step of Michael Sullivan was adjusted with mature sharpness. In this respect, his words of blame and rage are reflected on the viewer’s mind as metaphors of more varied life prospects.

His sacrifice was worth it. It symbolizes the shock and the completion of Michael’s destination on earth. However, Mendes provides a sort of transformation by making Sullivan positively illuminated after his long way of vengeance. Nevertheless, it is done, for a viewer is considered to be ready to analyze Sullivan’s past as a “bygone failure.”

Deconstruction of the initially amoral theme into the story with no happy end for the main hero is what Mendes tries to achieve afterward. In classical gangster films screened in the 1940s or some later, there were no vivid external influences on the American cinematograph. In part, it was grounded on the absence of so attractive genres as the filmmaking industry has to date. The diversity of trends and genres in movies has now acquired international or global character.

Thus, synthesizing various approaches, Sam Mendes could have implemented features of the drama of the time and significance of duty to be completed on time through the main character. The director of the film dared connect the historical data of the US (setting, main characters, colors, etc.) in close adherence to rich in dramatic scenes genre (gekiga).

To say more, it is better to turn back to the crucial meeting of Sullivan with his main offender. It is vital to highlight the presence of rainfall. Again, the director applies to a viewer’s perception of this scene as the moment of Sullivan’s cleanup. Killing Connor and John Rooney made him free from any obligations before the duty. He became watershed and able to move forward along with his son. However, as aforementioned, the tragedy comes up Sullivan, but not his son whose destiny is believed to be free from bloody cruelty. All in all, the movie Road to Perdition by Sam Mendes incorporates the classical genre of gangster film along with points on adventure, drama, and thriller as well.

The set of techniques and tricks which the director used comply with the initially external impacts on the creation of the movie. In particular, it is about Japanese manga and an American graphical novel by Max Allan Collins. Thus, the incorporation of two approaches at once makes the movie that special.

Works cited

Ebert, Roger. Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2010. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2009.

Fairbanks, Brian W. Brian W. Fairbanks – Writings. New York, NY: Lulu. 2005.

Kirsner, Scott. Inventing the Movies: Hollywood’s Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. Mountain View, CA: Scott Kirsner, 2008.

Road to Perdition. Dir. Sam Mendes. Perf. Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Tom Hanks. DreamWorks. 2002.

Wehner, Chris C. Who Wrote That Movie?: Screenwriting in Review: 2000 – 2002. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2003.

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