From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
PO Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340, FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: A little ‘Godfather,’ a little Edward Hopper
combine to produce visually stunning ‘Road to Perdition’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 1, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

This summer we have the opportunity of seeing a visually stunning movie that asks serious questions about the relationships of fathers and sons. The movie is Road to Perdition, directed by Sam Mendes. Take a dose of the original Godfather and add the stark canvases of Edward Hopper to a movie of sin and redemption, and you have the triumph that is Road to Perdition.

Michael Sullivan, played by Tom Hanks, has a family of wife and two children in a medium-sized city in Illinois in the winter of 1931. Michael has been raised by gang leader John Rooney (Paul Newman). Michael’s loyalty is intense. He is seen by Rooney’s son as a threat and a person more deeply loved by father than the son is. The biological son, Connor (Daniel Craig), through a series of events plots, the death of Michael and his family. The reason is that Michael Sullivan, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) has seen his own father and Connor kill gang members in a violent shoot out caused by Connor’s uncontrollable temper.

Father and son leave the city on the run to escape their own deaths after wife and younger son have been killed by Connor. The result is a movie that takes you throughout the stark farmlands of the Midwest with one threat after another to the two Michaels as they rob banks and seek to steal money that belongs to the mob.

The intensity of the movie increases as a newspaper photographer by the name of Maguire (Jude Law) is sent by John Rooney to kill the “son” who now is attacking the whole underworld system.

The movie moves rapidly to its final conclusion of the possibility of redemption.

The visuals of Road to Perdition are like paintings of a dark depression period that stay in your memory. Sure, many of them, such as all the people reading newspapers in the large Chicago waiting room, are symbolic and iconic rather than realistic. But they work through the eyes and the mind to eventually touch the heart.

The screenplay by David Self, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, holds one’s silent attention as the narrative moves to its powerful conclusion.

Young Michael is often seen reading a visual book of The Lone Ranger throughout the film. Some of us older viewers can remember doing the same thing in the late 1940s. And we can remember the power of such stories of good and evil on our lives.

The religious themes throughout Road to Perdition are intense. How can people doing such evil deeds seem touched deeply by their beliefs that run counter to what they are doing? One especially striking scene is when the Tom Hanks character speaks seriously to his son as he holds a tommy gun whose barrel crosses a popular lithograph, hanging on the wall behind him, of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The acting in Road to Perdition is underplayed to perfection. Tom Hanks and Paul Newman will be nominated for all kinds of awards for their poignant portrayal of father and “son.”

Tyler Hoechin is terrific in the difficult role of 12-year-old son Michael, through whose eyes we see the story. Jude Law — like Hanks, playing against type — plays the stooped-over, yellow-stained-teeth killer with cool deliberation.

But it is the cinematography by Conrad L. Hall that stands out. Hall clearly understands director Sam Mendes’ vision. Yes, sometimes the cinematography is so striking it stands out above the story. But you know, in this film I’m glad it does. It makes the film soar.

There is lots of violence in Road to Perdition. Yet it is done in a way that doesn’t seem gratuitous. There is moral ambiguity throughout the story that makes the movie troubling and thought-provoking. For adults who can take the violence I can’t recommend Road to Perdition highly enough.

Road to Perdition is rated R — under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. It has lots of violence. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Road to Perdition A-III — for adults.

*****

On Monday, July 1, after three hours of class at Seattle University, I traveled by bus to the Metro Theater in the University District to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

While visiting my sister in Minnesota last May, we paid a call on the 80-year-old mother of a good friend who told Patty and me how much she enjoyed a movie about a Greek wedding.

I am very happy that My Big Fat Greek Wedding has finally come to the Spokane area. I would hope it has also come to Walla Walla, Pullman and the Tri-Cities also. It is the kind of film that you’ve seen the basic plot before but it is done so well you can’t help yourself from laughing out loud again and again. I haven’t laughed so much in months.

The film is based on a one-woman show that was written and performed by Second City alumna Nila Vardalos. When I saw the film that opens up with hundreds of characters I had no idea it was based on a one-woman narrative. Vardalos, in her 30s, plays a single Greek woman, Toula Portokalos, who lives in Chicago. She works in her father’s Greek restaurant as a welcoming receptionist who also pours coffee and does lots of odd jobs.

Her father is insistent that even though she is very plain and a little heavy she should be out in the social world looking for a nice Greek young man to be her husband. Dad is even open to sending Toula to Greece to find the right husband and then raise lots of Greek children.

One day our Ugly Duckling catches a smile from a handsome Anglo customer, played by John Corbett of Northern Exposure fame. Suddenly she, at first shyly, decides to change her life. She helps a relative computerize her travel agency and begins to turn into a beautiful swan.

She tells her folks she is taking a pottery class at a nearby college as she begins to meet and fall in love with her man of first love. The practical problem becomes telling her family that she is in love with a non-Greek.

Finally they all find out and the fun really begins as the clash of cultures takes place big-time.

The two families meet at Toula’s home with lots of cousins and relatives. Our Anglo family is a little blown out of the water by all the emotion of the Greek family.

The scenes preparing for the wedding are priceless. The laughs are continual as the widely-drawn characters give it all they’ve got.

Yes, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is like a fairy tale. The shots of Chicago, as we encounter all of Toula’s 27 cousins, are great. The city looks beautiful.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a humorous story of family life. In the end it takes its stand for family, no matter how crazy and chaotic it is.

A couple of days after I saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding I met a former student, now in his 40s and sending his first child to Whitman College in Walla Walla this fall. He suggested we eat in a nearby Greek Restaurant.

I asked the wonderful Greek waitress what she thought of the movie. She said there are lots of stereotypes but it was lots of fun.

She said the part where the father suggests Windex for whatever ails a person is true. Her own father suggests Alka Seltzer for everything that is wrong with a person in her family.

She said the wedding scenes were right on. The Greek side of the family won’t sit on the other sides section of Church. So one side is jammed full and the other side is filled just in a few of the pews on its side.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is great for anyone, from teenagers through age 80.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is rated PG for some language and sensuality. The Catholic Bishops’ Film Committee rates My Big Fat Greek Wedding as A-II — for teens and adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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