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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Tom Hanks braves bad reaction
Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks: Not worried about tarnishing his image

In his latest role, Hollywood's favourite son Tom Hanks breaks new ground by playing a bad guy for the first time in his career in the Depression-era drama Road to Perdition.

Hanks is cast as a gun-toting hit man working for an Illinois mob boss in the 1930s.

The movie is eagerly awaited as it marks British director Sam Mendes's first film since his Oscar-winning American Beauty.

It is also in contention for Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion award.

Hanks has displayed some darkness in his previous roles as a gay man battling Aids in Philadelphia, and as a stand-up comic in Punchline.

So, he does not see his latest character as a radical departure.

Sam Mendes
Mendes: Was the toast of Hollywood with American Beauty

Referring to the gunman he portrays he says: "There is no difference in a lot of ways between this guy and quite a few great number of people that I have played.

"It's just that the extent that he goes to in order to provide for his family is a very, very different one."

Two-time Oscar-winning Hanks maintains he never worries what movie-goers might think of roles like this, which might be at odds with his received image as America's beloved cinematic everyman.

"If I did that, there's 19 movies I never would have made," says Hanks.

"I never would have made Philadelphia because no one wants to see a homosexual man die of Aids in a movie.

"If you think about it in that way, you'll second guess yourself right out of any sort of artistic enterprise."


Mendes is quick to set the record straight and explain that Hanks isn't playing an out-and-out evil man.

He says the headline: "Tom Hanks plays a baddie. Shock! Horror!" is not quite the case.

"It is a dark character, but it is morally ambivalent, he is not just purely bad."

Hanks may be a mobster but he is also a man with a strong sense of loyalty and parental responsibility.

Paul Newman
Paul Newman: Brings the father-son dynamic to the story

Father-son dynamics form the focus of this highly stylised mobster picture.

Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, the loyal enforcer for a mob boss and surrogate father-figure who is portrayed by 73-year-old screen veteran Paul Newman.

But the key relationship is between Hanks's character and one of his young sons whose eyes are opened to a disturbing reality when he first witnesses his father killing another man.

As Hanks sees it, the film is partly an examination of "the son's preconceived notions of who his father is, and the reality of who his father is".


For most of the film Sullivan is on the road with his young son trying to avoid a menacing hit man, played by Jude Law, who doubles as a crime photographer.

Sullivan is on the run trying to exact revenge for an act of violence against his family. But Road to Perdition is also a tale of redemption.

Hanks's character tries to do everything he can to make sure his son does not follow him into a life of violence.

Jude Law
Jude Law plays a crime photographer

Hanks credits Mendes for making this big-budget endeavour, reported to have cost $80m, different from the standard Hollywood picture.

Hanks notes that Mendes's touch is particularly noticeable with the gun play and pacing.

"The violence here happens by large very, very quickly," he says. "It's over very fast. It's a very personal brand of violence.

"The pauses, the silences in this movie are much more important than what anybody else says, and again, that's the sensibilities and the artistic aesthetic of Mendes storytelling."


The film bears some resemblance to American Beauty in that both films take an oblique look at the dark side of the American dream.

In the case of Road to Perdition, it is not suburbia but organised crime that is brought into focus.

It is a screen portrayal of the Prohibition-era gangster that is not rooted in naturalism, but in stylised film-noir.

Some critics have praised the film for its artful look but they have also noted that it is showy, too full of style and too self-conscious.

Few are complaining about Hanks, who once again has turned in a very effective and restrained performance, as a morally ambiguous gangster and family man.

But even with the star power of Hanks and Mendes' direction it seems unlikely that Road to Perdition will match American Beauty's track record at the box office and in winning awards.

The picture is probably too dark and studied to have broad popular appeal.

The awards, when they come, are more likely to go to individuals in the design and technical categories responsible for the film's impressive look.

See also:

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17 Mar 00 | Oscars 2000
27 Mar 00 | Oscars 2000
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