Road to Perdition

By on May 11, 2010

This is the beautifully shot and crafted story of a gangster named Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) who is seen by his son (Tyler Hoechlin) on one of his jobs. Michael’s boss, John Rooney (Paul Newman), thinks things will be okay but his jealous son Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) sets both his father and Michael up, leading to the death of Michael’s wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and second son. Michael thinks Rooney is responsible and Rooney has to choose for himself and sends a hit-man Harlen Maguire (Jude Law) to finish the job. Since Michael is a respected man within the organization he tries to win some friends who can help him including mob boss Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci).

According to author Max Allan Collins, real-life gangsters John and Connor Looney’s names were changed to Rooney for the film.

In the reverse shots of Mike Sullivan, Jr., when he’s being driven through the snowy town by his father, an angel can be seen in the frost on the rear window over his left shoulder.

Prior to the brief travel scene along the “Road to Perdition,” with Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) hanging out a car window as they near their destination, the local road commission oiled the gravel surface of rural road, shoulder-to-shoulder, to prevent dust clouds. But when filming began, the Model A was attached to an equipment trailer pulled by a large utility truck and a member of the crew was squatting near the rear of the antique car armed with a canister and making fake dust.

Director Trademark: [Sam Mendes] Water marks the event of a death

The photographs shown in Harlen Maguire’s (Jude Law) apartment also appear in a book by Luc Sante titled “Evidence.” According to Sante, the photos are part of a collection held by the Municipal Archives of the City of New York and were taken by members of the NYPD during the years 1914-1918.

The shot of The Reporter drawing a gun and approaching the Geneva Hotel shows a grocery store behind him. In reality, it is a Starbucks that was covered up and closed for four days. It was used as the craft service area and the employees were kept on to serve the crew (and Tom Hanks) coffee.

Director Cameo: [Sam Mendes] as one of John Rooney’s bodyguards in the rainy shootout towards the end of the film.

Robson Green was considered for a role.

The scene where John Rooney (Paul Newman) and Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) are playing the piano together, was originally supposed to be an Irish dance sequence shared between the two of them.

To create a villain that could challenge the physically imposing Tom Hanks, director Sam Mendes wanted Jude Law to seem rodent-like.


Up until the killing in the warehouse, Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) has little access to his father. Consequently Sam Mendes made sure that the father figure was always filmed from afar, or through doorways and mirrors, to emphasise this distance. Once father and son find themselves on the run, this changes, and close-ups are employed more and more frequently.

The iconic shot of the Sullivan’s car driving into Chicago involved 120 period cars on a quiet Sunday morning on Chicago’s main thoroughfare.

The town of Perdition is only mentioned once.

The diner where Tom Hanks and Jude Law meet was bought on the internet by production designer Dennis Gassner for $20,000.

The bead of sweat that rolls down Tom Hanks’ face during his first encounter with Jude Law was not make-up but Hanks’ own sweat.

Jude Law hooked up with a magician to learn how to lace a coin through his fingers, a trick he performs in the film.

Jude Law hated his appearance for the film and insisted on wearing a cap every time he wasn’t on camera. Director Sam Mendes insisted that Law also remain paler than all of his co-stars.

Paul Newman was unanimously the producers’ first choice for the part of John Rooney.

Tyler Hoechlin won his part after a nationwide casting call that encompassed over 2,000 young actors.

Make-up artist Daniel C. Striepeke’s first instruction to the cast was to stay out of the sun as much as possible, as the film is set in the mid-winter.

One of the locations for one of the bank robberies was physically perfect but the wrong way round. There was only room to shoot from right to left and not vice versa. So production designer Dennis Gassner and his team had to dress the location, reversing street signs, license plates and even switching steering wheels on all the cars.

For the bank robbery sequences, Tyler Hoechlin had to learn to drive, something he was only too happy to do. Hoechlin mastered it all easily but, just to be on the safe side, a stunt driver was sitting in the back with his own set of driving controls.

Temperatures occasionally dropped to -30 degrees while filming took place. This didn’t necessarily mean that they had all the snow they required. The special effects department still had to make many tons of the fake stuff.

The submachine gun that Sullivan uses is in fact a Thompson M1921.

Frank Nitti was a chain smoker so Stanley Tucci had to get through about 80 cigarettes in one day.

Frank Nitti’s office is based on the office of Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The pistol used by Maguire (Jude Law) is a Savage .32 ACP model.

The movie is loosely based on actual events and a real enforcer for mobster John Looney, who was betrayed by him.

The piano piece that Paul Newman and Tom Hanks play at the opening funeral was actually performed by the two actors (after much practice).

The film is set in 1931, and costume designer Albert Wolsky had real trouble finding distinctive clothing from the period. As this was the height of the Depression, fashions lacked the flamboyance of the 1920s and the style of the later 1930s when gangsterism was “fashionable”. Failing to find any usable real clothes from 1931, Wolsky came across a weaver in upstate New York who was able to make all the required clothes using the same weight of fabrics that were used in that period. Once woven, the costumes then had to be aged and dyed.

Filmed on location in Illinois and Michigan. Even the interiors were filmed on a sound-stage constructed in Chicago’s Armory.

Anthony LaPaglia filmed a scene in which he played Al Capone, but it was decided to leave Capone off-screen and so his scene was deleted. LaPaglia is listed first in the “special thanks” section of the credits as a result.

Tom Sizemore was strongly considered to play Al Capone, as was Alfred Molina.

One day, when cinematographer Conrad L. Hall was setting up a shot of Paul Newman, Hall looked through his viewfinder and began to cry. When asked what was wrong, he just said, “He was so beautiful. He was so beautiful.” Tom Hanks said that when he walks onto sets, he’s used to walking over wires and cables and other lighting and camera equipment; he said he never had to do that on the set of this film because Hall was so organized.

Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall sought to give the film the look of the works of artist Edward Hopper.

According to author Max Allan Collins, the “Road to Perdition” graphic novel was an American homage to the Manga series “Lone Wolf and Cub” by Kazuo Koike. Collins quotes Koike at the beginning of the book: “You must choose a road for yourself”.

The lake house in Michgan was actually reconstructed from existing foundations and then taken down after the shoot to preserve the history of the site.

Maguire’s crime scene photography work is based on Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig, a famous crime-scene photographer in the 1920s and 1930s who was licensed to possess a “scanner” radio that allowed him to listen to frequencies used by the police and fire departments. This enabled him to arrive (by car) at crime and fire scenes, sometimes before the authorities did, as if informed by telepathic powers, to which his nickname, a corruption of “Ouija”, alludes. He sold his photos to the tabloid newspapers. The photos in Maguire’s apartment are real 1930s crime scene photos, some of which were taken by Weegee himself.

The movie is dedicated to its cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall, whose last film this was.

Paul Newman had an assist with his accent from Irish writer Frank McCourt, the author of “Angela’s Ashes”, who gave him a tape of him speaking. McCourt has lived in the US for many years but still has some vestiges of his native Irish accent, which is what Newman wanted to emulate.

Producer Dean Zanuck had never seen a graphic novel before until he was pitched the idea of “Road to Perdition”. Flicking through the pages of the novel, he was immediately hooked. He then sent a copy to his father, Richard D. Zanuck, who was on location in Morocco at the time. He also was smitten with the project and instructed his son to dispatch a copy of the novel to Steven Spielberg, who called back two days later, saying that he wanted to do it.

Jude Law’s character, Maguire, is not in the original graphic novel. He is a creation of writer David Self.

The final feature film (on-screen acting) project for Paul Newman.

Notice that Michael Jr. isn’t eating his pie and ice cream in the diner when he and his father are talking about the money. According to Sam Mendes, in earlier takes Tyler Hoechlin gobbled up his pie, not considering that he would have to perform the scene again and again. By the time they got to the take that’s in the film Hoechlin was stuffed and couldn’t take another bite. Tom Hanks by contrast knew to put small amounts of food into his mouth and eat slowly.



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