Road to Perdition and Non-Traditional Idea of Family
Murdering a family member is considered an act of betrayal even in cinematic depictions of mafia groups. Such an act is not only a violation of unspoken criminal codes but also destroys the one institution that can be counted on to provide stability. The already murky waters of mafia morality become more obscure when leaders of such families become conflicted between blood relatives and loyal helpers, as is the case in the film Road to Perdition.
Mob Fathers and Sons
Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) looks to his mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) as a father figure; the closeness of their personal relationship becomes evident when the two play piano together to the frustrated exclusion of John’s son Connor (Daniel Craig). When a series of meetings go bad and money is lost, Connor sets up Michael and his family for assassination. While John is upset, he refuses to act against his own son, even as he understands his son is in the wrong.
Michael manages to escape the trap along with his son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin). The two already have a strained relationship but work to understand each other since they have no one else to trust. While taking revenge against his old boss Michael discovers Connor has been stealing money the whole time. He risks his life to confront John with the discovery. John, however, already knows and refuses to punish Connor even if it means leaving his surrogate son, Michael, to die.
Knowing the bond between them is broken, Michael kills both Connor and John because he knows he cannot strike the son without a reaction from the father. Before Michael guns him down, John shows his true feelings by telling Michael, “I’m glad it was you.” John suggests he knew his life would end violently, but he’s appreciative that the man who kills him is the kind of honorable and forthright man he wanted in a son, just as he understands Michael is taking this action to try and protect his own son, who is innocent of their crimes.
Those Who Live By the Sword
Michael and his surviving son, while engaged in exacting revenge, become closer as Michael teaches the boy to drive a getaway car, how to be a lookout, and signal if trouble approaches. In spite of this knowledge, Michael explains he wanted a better life for his sons so they would not have to be mafia enforcers as he had become. Michael does not voice regrets about his own life, but he believes the path and violent path his life took it best avoided if at all possible.
In an inversion John’s death, Michael Jr. finds himself in a situation where he cannot kill another man even to save his father’s life. Michael, however, is proud of his son’s inability to pull the trigger. The chain of violence ends with him just as Michael hoped it would.
Bloodlines and Bloodshed
A major conflict in the film centers on the tragic choices characters make regarding their families. John will not abandon the Connor who he knows is a liar, thief, cheat, and vindictive thug with none of John’s refinement or magnanimity. He suffers and dies for this choice rather than rat out his own in favor of Michael who he all but proclaims to be the kind of son he wanted.
Michael wants to save his children from the criminal life, sheltering them until there is no alternative. He meets his end, though, because he does not want Michael Jr. to become a killer like he is; his own life becomes forfeit to preserve his son’s innocence.
© 2009 Seth Tomko