Saturday, January 28, 2006

Paved With Good Intentions

I find myself unexpectedly at home for the night--what a treat! I'm actually in the middle of 12 days of reserve flying, but they don't always have something for me, and so I can sneak home for a day now and again. It's such a quiet delight to be at home with my Sweet Pea (home again from her month in India), as she sleeps on the couch next to me while I watch an episode of Law & Order on the DVR.

And afterward, our sleep schedules now pushed even further asunder than they usually are, we trundle up and tuck her in and I return to find The Road to Perdition playing on one of the major networks. Even though I try never to watch live TV, and especially to watch a movie that's been edited for a big network airing, yet I cannot tear myself away. And in general compensation for these networks' legacy of cheapening and degrading everything they touch, I here find that they have spliced the deleted scenes into the picture. How fabulous! I've seen the deleted scenes, of course, but there is no provision on the DVD to re-integrate them into the movie. And the change is unexpected and welcome.

The Road to Perdition is unusual in that the story comes not from a conventional novel or born of an original screenplay but from a 1998 graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. I had not heard the term "graphic novel" before this, and took it to mean a regular novel with graphic violence. But (for those similarly unawares) it actually means a novel told in graphic form--basically an adult comic book. This has an interesting benefit. After seeing the movie I went out and bought the book, and it's really an artful storyboarding of the tale. So there was little for Sam Mendes to do in visualizing the story: it was all right there. And that ensures that the story works visually (which every movie must do, of course, but the original source--say, the English Patient--may not facilitate that so well as here).

This movie has insidiously worked its way into my top three or four movies ever. If you've not seen it, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Like any of the best movies, it completely transcends its genre, scrabbling up out of the sub-heading of "mob movies" and into the ranks of Movies Great and Unqualified. (In fact, the "mob" part of it is small and rather incidental; it's simply the backdrop in front of which the story unfolds.) I've dragged every warm body I get my hands on to a showing of it, and no one has ever failed to rave about it (even my lovely wife, who resists boy movies generally). It sports a fantastic director (Sam "American Beauty" Mendes), a cast of rare fabulousness (Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci), a haunting, beautiful score by Thomas Newman, and unbeatable cinematography by Conrad Hall. Like the tonally-similar "Miller's Crossing," it's visually stunning--a black and white movie shot in color; really beautiful. I could freeze the picture nearly anywhere and frame it for a wall hanging.

I think there's a valid criticism to be made in that it has not a single female character with more than a few lines (though two of those women are Jennifer Jason Leigh and her sister), but everything else about it is absolutely compelling. The writing and characterizations, especially of the main three or four characters, are such that you manage to give a damn about them when the shit hits the fan. (And the shit hits the fan in a Titanic kinda way.) Tom Hanks in particular sells us completely on his big, loyal oaf of a mob enforcer who is flummoxed by the glimpses of the swift stream of emotional depth that runs beneath the key people with whom he must deal--a stream of which he remains ploddingly unaware for most of his life. He's no idiot, but his talents lie outside the mainstream and he is at times blinkingly unequipped to process what unfolds before him. And Hanks is able to give us this from a character who has very, very little to say.

The other main character is Hanks' son, played by Tyler Hoechlin, a lad of 14 at the filming. His performance is miraculous, on par with Leonardo DiCaprio in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" (where he plays a retarded boy so compellingly that I was honestly shocked to see him in his next movie).

Anyway, in spite of seeing it 20 times, it again performed its magic and put me under a spell. It's a (mostly) quiet movie with a compelling story and it's beautiful to look at. So go and rent it and make me think this blog is performing a useful public service!


Kate said...

I just hate to see zero comments. I haven't seen the movie but I will consider adding it to my online movie queue. ;-)

wunelle said...

Ah, the mercy comment!

I'll take 'em any way I can get 'em, Ms. Kate ;-)

(Let me know if you see it!)

Joshua said...

I am glad Kate did that, I was about to.

I watched this some time ago, and I don't rmember being too impressed with Tom's role. Maybe I am just the "negative" comment man.

Anyway, I just watched "bRoken Flowers" and if you like the direction Bill Murray has been taking his acting, you should like it.


wunelle said...

I was curious about Bill Murray's latest. I loved him in "Lost In Translation" (though I loved Scarlett Johanssen... better). I'll have to see it.

Not that you are somehow unaware of this, of course, but I just think that Tom Hanks was given a very stoical character, a man of so few words and a small emotional palette, and within that very limited scope he made a believable, tortured human being. I think it's also cool that he played so far against type.

The whole thing comes together so well: the naive kid trying to read the stoical dad; the adoptive father who seems benevolent but is a block of iron underneath; the biological son whose plotting can be palpably felt. Good stuff.

Anyway, don't mean to re-post it! ;-)

Heather B. said...

I've been meaning to see this movie for quite some time, so if Wunelle says it's good then it must be good.

woolf said...

I've only recently delved into the graphic novel genre myself. Here's some suggestions:

Persepolis by Marajane Satrapi

about the Iranian revolution as seen through a child's eyes

Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman

holocaust played by mice (Jews) and cats (Nazis)

If you're a fantasy fan, read any of George RR Martin's graphic novels or Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, etc.