Michael Sullivan Jr. is the son of an enforcer for John Rooney, an Irish American crime boss in the Midwest during the great depression. Our first sight of Michael is in the opening of the movie when he is riding his bike to a local convenience store to get paid for a paper route that he has just completed.
While Michael is waiting for the store owner to get his pay for the day, he swipes a chocolate bar from the front desk. This lets the audience know that the current economic climate is a dismal one and that the Depression was in fact Great. Michael Jr. is very curious as to what his dad does. He knows that he goes on dangerous missions for John Rooney, an Irish mob boss who treats the Sullivans as his own, but he still doesn’t know what he does exactly. So on a stormy night he decides to stow away in the backseat of his father’s car in order to find out his father supports the family. Michael Sr. and his associate, Connor Rooney, go to a warehouse to have a meeting with Finn McGovern, one of John Rooney’s partners. The meeting goes awry when Connor shoots McGovern and Michael Sr. has to take out two body guards with his Thompson submachine gun, Michael Jr. sees it all through a hole in the warehouse wall. After Michael Sr. and Connor find out that Michael Jr. had seen the whole thing happen, Connor questions if Jr. can or cannot keep quiet about what he witnessed. Sullivan swears that his son can keep a secret but Connor tries to make sure of it on a failed attempt to kill Sullivan, in turn he kills his wife and youngest son. After this, Michael Sr. and Jr. flee the city and make their way to Chicago in order to ask for assistance from Al Capone, but is rejected by Capone’s right hand man, Frank Nitti. The rejection leads Michael Sr. into robbing Chicago banks of Capone’s money; his plan is to trade the money back to Capone for information of Connor’s whereabouts. When Capone and Nitti hear about Sullivan’s robberies, Harlen Maguire is hired to kill Sullivan. Michael Sr. takes a bullet to the shoulder during a fast paced and thrilling gunfight with Maguire.
Luckily, Sullivan taught his son to drive and they head to the countryside where they are both taken in by an elderly farm couple. When Michael Sr. is fully recovered he is ready for his revenge on Rooney. John Rooney was a father figure to Sullivan, the killing of Rooney signified the beginning of a new, but short-lived chapter in Sullivan’s life. After Rooney is dead, Nitti figures that there is no need to hide Connor any longer and gives Sullivan his location and Michael Sullivan finally does what he set out to do, kill Connor Rooney. After this, the Sullivans make their way to Perdition, Michigan, where Michael Sr.’s sister in law’s summer home is. Upon arriving at the home, unsurprisingly, Maguire is waiting for them and he shoots Michael Sr. as he is admiring the view of the lake. In a dying effort Sullivan shoots Maguire and Michael Jr. is left alone. Michael makes his way back to the countryside and is raised by the elderly couple.
The acting in Road to Perdition is some of the best that I have seen in a movie in a long time. Michael Sullivan, played by Tom Hanks, has a father-son relationship with John Rooney, played by Paul Newman. Rooney took Sullivan in as a child and raised him as one of his own along with his biological son, Connor Rooney, played by Daniel Craig. After Rooney turns on Sullivan and tries to have him killed, Sullivan has to kill Rooney in order for the continuous murder attempts to stop. When the two finally meet in the middle of the street on a rainy and cold Midwest night, Rooney tells Sullivan that he is glad that the person to kill him is Sullivan. Upon shooting Newman’s character, Hanks’ body language is flawless. You can tell in his facial expressions that killing Rooney is the right thing to do and what he must do, but not necessarily what he wants to do. To lose someone so close to you by your own will is unimaginable, but somehow Hanks can pull off this scene with perfection. The audience can tell by the look in Hanks’ eyes that what Sullivan is doing is eating him alive inside, but he carries out the deed.
Hanks’ Sullivan is a quiet man who keeps his emotions to himself who does whatever it takes to keep food on the table and he’s happy to do whatever his boss, John Rooney, tells him. Rooney took Sullivan in as a child and was a surrogate father to him; Hanks and Newman are somewhat of a dynamic duo in the movie. You can sense a real emotional tie between them when both of them are participating in a piano duet at the wake in the beginning of the film. Newman treats the Sullivan boys as if they were his own grandsons when he portrays Rooney, asking them for hugs with a warm smile. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some urgent business with these young gentlemen,” is what Newman’s Rooney tells Sullivan as he takes his two boys to shoot a game of dice. But we quickly see Newman switch from a family man to a stone cold mobster when he orders a hit on Sullivan, a son in his eyes. Connor Rooney, who is played by Daniel Craig, is John Rooney’s real son who feels that his father favors Sullivan more than him and Craig does a spectacular job of portraying to role of a jealous and immature son.
When Hanks’ Sullivan confronts Rooney for the first time in the middle of the church, they head down to the basement of the church to talk in private. It’s appropriate that they choose the basement for their meeting, being below the church representing Hell where Rooney says later that the both of them are destined to go after they die. Sullivan reveals to Rooney that Connor has been stealing from him for years, keeping the accounts under names of dead men like Finn McGovern. Sullivan thinks that by telling Rooney this that he will forsake Connor and give up his location, but Rooney does not. Instead he protects both of his sons by keeping Connor’s information to himself and telling Michael to flee unless he wants to be harmed. For a movie known for its cinematographic beauty, the dialogue in this scene is awesome. Newman speaks with authority and eloquence as Rooney tells Sullivan to run and make sure that Michael Jr. isn’t tainted by the sinful lifestyle that surrounds him. Sullivan then threatens Rooney that, “…they’re protecting him (Connor) now, but when you are gone they’re not going to need him anymore.” Hanks delivers this line with a stiff and straight face, letting Rooney know that if he doesn’t tell him Connor’s location that eventually he will die for it. Rooney still doesn’t give up the information telling Sullivan that Connor is no different from either of them, trying to make Sullivan believe that Connor is equal to him. The speech in this scene is powerful and could only be delivered by such talented actors as Newman and Hanks.
Symbolism is a big part in Road to Perdition, which isn’t a surprise if you have seen American Beauty that was also directed by Sam Mendes. During the scene where Sullivan kills Rooney, you cannot hear any of the shots being fired, but only music. Rooney attempts to open the door to his car and sees that his driver has taken a turn for the worst. The driver falls forward in his seat and his head presses against the horn. You can tell by the look on Rooney’s face that he knows what is about to happen. One by one Rooney’s goons drop and all we can see is Sullivan’s signature Tommy Gun blazing in the dark corner of the street, although there is only music playing we still know everything that is going on. The rain is falling and it is pitch black, quite a fitting scene for a mass murder. Michael Sullivan emerges from the shadows and confronts Rooney, the first and only words of the whole scene are spoken in which Rooney tells Sullivan that he is glad that the person to kill him is Sullivan. Sullivan takes out Rooney and the scene ends. For a scene with only four words, it is beautifully done.
After a botched meeting with Finn McGovern ends with Connor killing the McGovern and Sullivan taking out the two body guards via his Tommy Gun is witnessed by Michael Jr. Connor questions whether or not Michael Jr. can keep quiet. Connor attempts to murder the father and son but instead takes out the youngest son Peter and Sullivan’s wife, Anne. Michael Jr. arrives home and sees the aftermath of Connor’s visit and is apparently in shock. When Sullivan Sr. arrives home from almost being “wacked” he sees that Michael Jr. is sitting at the table and right away knows that something has gone terribly wrong. Sullivan makes his way to the bathroom and when he sees what Connor has done he breaks down. The look on the face of Michael Jr. is unremarkable and chilling; it is a look of utter disbelief and despair. It is through this that the audience can get a grasp on how seeing the bodies of his deceased mother and brother have affected him. He doesn’t shed a single tear until his father departs him in the church and he is alone and all of his thoughts catch up with him, Michael Jr. had to grow up very quickly in a very short period of time.
There are many ways to take in Road to Perdition, but there is one theme that holds true in the end of the movie and that is that living a sinful lifestyle does have its consequences. Sullivan is trying to keep his son on the path of righteousness and protect him from the many evils that surround him and his family. “…there is only one guarantee: none of us will see heaven.” Is what Rooney tells Sullivan in the basement of the church. Sullivan then tells Rooney that Michael Jr. could. They make their way to Perdition, MI and all seems right. Finally they think that they can stop worrying about the constant threats that have been bombarding their lives ever since Connor murdered Anne and Peter. What they don’t know is that Maguire is waiting in the lake house for Michael Jr. and Sr. to walk in so he can finish the job that Rooney gave him. Michael Jr. is outside with the dog admiring the view as his father is doing the same, but from inside the house. Maguire shoots Sullivan in the back; Sullivan didn’t have the slightest clue. Michael Jr. walks in to see his father drenched in blood on the floor. In Sullivan’s last acts he shoots Maguire before he can harm and before Michael Jr. has the opportunity to pull the trigger on Maguire, the movie ends shortly after.
Connor, Rooney, Maguire, and Sullivan all had the consequences of their actions shown in the film. All of those men’s lives were filled with crime, sin, and violence. No matter how hard they tried to avoid them, the consequences for their decisions caught up to them when it was all said and done. Michael Jr. had a clean slate and a pure conscience, which is why Sullivan tries so hard to keep Michael Jr. innocent and lead him on the path of morality and not a road to perdition.