Film: Road to Perdition

"There is only one guarantee — none of us will see heaven."
John Rooney

A 2002 film, directed by Sam Mendes, based on a comic of the same name (itself inspired by the manga Lone Wolf and Cub). Mobster Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), and his son who followed him to work, witness the mob boss (Paul Newman)'s son Connor (Daniel Craig) shoot a fellow employee (Ciarán Hinds) for embezzling from The Syndicate.

Connor tries to kill the witnesses off, but botches the job and ends up killing Mike's wife and younger son. Expecting revenge, the mob takes out a Contract on the Hitman and Sullivan and Michael go on the run, pursued by a chillingly psychopathic assassin, Maguire (Jude Law). Also starring Stanley Tucci as Frank Nitti, a real-life major figure in the Al Capone organization.

The film deals largely with father-and-son relationships — both the protagonists and the villain of the movie have deep issues with paternal favoritism and respect. Whereas Connor forces his father to try to protect him at the cost of a man he clearly loves as a son, Michael becomes determined that his only surviving child will not become like him.


  • Adaptation Distillation: The comic's author himself approves of many of the changes, like having the Sullivans contend with a single assassin instead of various random Mooks, with the exception of the slightly more upbeat ending. The book is mostly a grim, pulpy odyssey of stylishly bloody death, the film has a more serene tone with violence kept to a minimum.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In The Movie, "John Looney" becomes "John Rooney" and "Michael O'Sullivan" becomes "Michael Sullivan". Interestingly, though Looney likely had his name changed so that the piece's villain wouldn't have a comical-sounding name, "John Looney" was the name of a real Irish gangster in 1930's Rock Island.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Inverted with Michael. The graphic novel's Michael O'Sullivan was a much more classically handsome character, and he was apparently nicknamed "Looney's Angel of Death", in part, for his good looks. Understandably, Tom Hanks was chosen more for his acting ability than for his physical resemblance to the character.
  • Badass and Child Duo
  • Badass Longcoat: Everyone (except Michael Jr.) wears one.
  • Battle in the Rain: A classic: (SPOILERS). There's a recurring motif throughout the film that water equals death, too.
  • Beauty Inversion: Harlen Maguire is a balding, hunched, brown-toothed man with an ill-fitting bowler hat and generally creepy mannerisms; not what the female audience was expecting from Jude Law.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Michael Sr. dies, but the kid lives.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The purest motive held by any of the characters is Michael Sr's wish for his son to have a better life.
    Michael Sullivan Sr.: He [Connor] murdered Annie and Peter!
    John Rooney: There are only murderers in this room! Michael! Open your eyes! This is the life we chose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee - none of us will see heaven.
    Michael Sullivan Sr.: Michael could.
    John Rooney: Then do everything that you can to see that that happens.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Connor's execution and the death of Peter in the bath. Water preceding death is a major theme.
  • Canon Foreigner: If you've only seen the movie, you might be surprised to learn that Maguire is nowhere to be found in the source material.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The couple on the farm, who Michael goes to live with at the end.
    • The comic subverts this — Michael arrives to find them both dead, and immediately gets shot as well.
  • Chicago
  • The Collector of the Strange: Maguire has a collection of photographs of corpses, at least some of which are his own handiwork.
  • Composite Character: Maguire is a combination of all of the random mooks from the graphic novel.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Subverted. Rance runs away and disappears behind a wall when the gunfight between Sullivan and Maguire breaks out, but the pellets from Maguire's shotgun easily penetrated the plaster wall and killed him anyway.
  • Contract on the Hitman
  • Deadly Bath: Connor. Also, Mrs. Sullivan is giving the younger son, Peter, a bath when Connor comes to shoot them.
  • Death by Adaptation: John Rooney dies, while John Looney lives (just like his historical counterpart).
  • Dissonant Serenity: The silent gunfight.
  • Dragon Their Feet: After Michael Sr. kills the entire Rooney crime family, Harlen Maguire still shows up at the end and kills him, despite the fact the people who were paying Maguire were already all dead, because...
    • It's PersonalDuring the exchange of gunfire in Rance's hotel suite, Michael shoots a glass lamp, which shatters and the fragments leave lots of nasty cuts on the left side of Maguire's face.
  • Depth Deception: Michael Jr. approaches the front door of his house, seeing Connor approaching after he has killed his mother and brother, and freezes when Connor appears to stare directly at him through the door's window, but it turns out Connor was actually looking at his own reflection. After Michael realizes this, he has time to hide before Connor leaves the house.
  • Downer Ending: The original comic. When Michael Jr. comes back to the farm at the end, he finds the elderly couple dead. He is then shot and killed himself.
  • Epunymous Title: Michael is on the way to irrevocably dooming his soul to hell... but he's also driving to a town called Perdition.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Maguire's plot-irrelevant crime scene photography, showing him as an entirely amoral ice-cold killer when he finishes off the Not Quite Dead victim.
    • There's also Rance whining to the hotel staff about his boiled egg.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids
  • Face Death with Dignity: Rooney, who as his mooks are gunned down around him simply stands there and awaits his fate, before looking Michael in the eye and saying...
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: "I'm glad it's you."
  • Film Noir
  • Foreshadowing: Much like oranges in The Godfather, water precedes every major death scene (bath, rain, lake, etc.):
    • Finn McGovern dies on a rainy night.
    • Michael Sr.'s wife, and son Peter, are shot dead by Connor in a bathroom.
    • Rooney meets his end at the barrel of Michael's Thompson submachine gun in a rainstorm.
    • Connor is shot dead while sitting in a bathtub.
    • Michael Sr. and Maguire shoot each other dead in a house right by a lake.
  • Friendly Enemy: Michael and the elder Rooney. To an extent, this is also true of Michael and the Capone organization, whose money he keeps stealing from banks, but they (or at least, Nitti) completely understand why he's doing what he's doing, and would sort of like to be on his side.
  • The Hero Dies: Michael Sr. himself at the end.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Frank Nitti, the entirely unseen Al Capone, and brief references to Elliot Ness.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Michael, especially in the comic.
  • The Irish Mob
  • Kick the Dog: During a shootout, Maguire shoots a cop before the latter can finish asking what the former's doing, then shoots him again as he's getting up, finishing him off. All to let you know Maguire is evil as evil gets.
  • Kill 'em All: Every named non-historical character dies except Michael the younger (and John Looney in the comic).
  • Moment of Silence: The climactic Battle in the Rain, with muted sound effects, minimalistic music and no dialogue until the final confrontation. Followed by an understated "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner, and a jarringly loud burst of gunfire.
  • Moral Event Horizon: invokedThis is almost the exact meaning of "perdition" - being doomed to go to hell once and for all, with no chance of salvation (hence Rooney's "none of us will see heaven").
  • Moral Myopia: Connor kills Michael's family, so Michael asks Connor's father to help him get revenge. Michael didn't get the irony of his own petition.
    Michael Sullivan, Sr.: He murdered Annie and Peter!
    John Rooney: There are only murderers in this room! Michael! Open your eyes! This is the life we chose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee - none of us will see heaven.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Connor tries to use a cynical facade to hide his jealousy and childishness. It doesn't work.
  • Parental Favoritism: Something of a theme.
    • Michael Jr. is originally The Unfavorite, because "you were more like me".
    • In the film, John Rooney clearly favors Michael over his own son, Connor, which gives Connor a serious complex and only makes him even more of a screw-up. When called upon to choose between them, however, John chooses blood, largely out of guilt for not being a better father to Connor.
  • Please Shoot the Messenger: Sullivan first discovers the plot against him when he is given a special note from him (that's actually from Connor) for the first debtor he visits: an offer to forgive the debt if the debtor shoots Sullivan in the head.
  • Precision F-Strike: From probably the least foul-mouthed character:
    Rooney: I curse the fucking day you were born.
  • Psycho for Hire: Maguire.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Connor Rooney.
    Connor Rooney: I can look after myself.
    Frank Nitti: No, you can't! This is the point. You're a big baby who doesn't know his thumb from his dick!
  • Psychotic Smirk: Again, Connor Rooney.
    Because it's all so fuckin' hysterical...
  • Robbing the Mob Bank: Michael's plan to avenge his family involves robbing banks of the off-the-books money they hold for Rooney and Capone in an effort to get Capone to turn over Connor, the murderer in question.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Mendes deliberately wrote every death to be near or surrounded by water to demonstrate the commonness (and uncontrollability) of death in the mobster's lives.
  • The Scream: We never see Michael Jr's reaction to finding his mother and brother's bodies. When his father finds them, we hear his muffled Big "NO!" from the other room, with the camera on Jr. staring silently at nothing.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After the death of John Rooney, Nitti no longer has a reason to protect Connor, and actually wants him dead because Connor is an idiot and would be a total liability once he inherited his father's legacy. Nitti decides to kill two birds with one stone and buys peace with Michael by no longer protecting Connor. When Michael enters the hotel to kill Connor, Nitti's goons operate the elevator and open the door of Connor's room for him.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The original comic's ending. See Downer Ending above.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The shootout in the rain.
    • Maguire's introduction where he finishes off a dying victim he found at a bloody crime scene is scored with a peppy, old-timey jazz number.
  • Spell My Name with an "S"
    • The Looney Family from the comic (and from real life) became the Rooney family for the movie.
    • Likewise the O'Sullivans became the Sullivans.
  • Staggered Zoom: The camera jumps back during Maguire's introductory scene as he uses a cloth to suffocate a not-quite-dead stabbing victim while an 'L' train speeds by outside.
  • Stepford Smiler: Connor, who smiles when he's feeling shamed by his father's preference for Michael. When asked why he does this, his deadpans, "Because it's all so fucking hysterical."
  • Supporting Protagonist: Michael Jr.
  • Sweet Tooth: Maguire pouring about half a cup of sugar into his coffee. And, well, look what it does to his teeth...
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill
    • In the movie, Sullivan's final act is shooting Maguire so that his son will be able to go through life having never killed anyone. If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Me, if you will.
    • In the comic, however, Michael Jr. averts this; killing at least two of the mooks that come after them.
  • Too Much Alike: The reason for Sullivan's distant relationship with Michael, Jr.
  • Ultimate Evil: Capone is deliberately kept off-camera to evoke a greater sense of mystery. A scene with him was filmed, but was left out of the final cut, despite the director admitting he loved the performance.
  • Uriah Gambit: Connor sets up Sullivan to be killed this way: send him out to a speakeasy owner who owes debt to Rooney with a message. The message tells the owner that if he kills Sullivan, his debt will be forgiven.
  • Vertigo Effect: Maguire first appears walking toward the camera underneath an 'L' track. It takes about 11 seconds of screen time, whereas the typical Vertigo shot is much more fast-moving.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There was a Rock Island, Illinois gangster by the name of John Patrick Looney. He betrayed a formerly loyal lieutenant of his, the resulting feud led to the death of his son, and he was eventually arrested for the murder of a lawyer named William Gabel.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Connor Rooney in the movie. In the comic, however, none of his angst (nor his father's favoritism towards Michael Sr.) is even hinted at (his motives for doing what he does are out of bloodlust and paranoia rather than out of envy).
    • Also Sullivan himself towards Michael Jr.; not only does he struggle to connect with his son, but Sullivan later admits he's had mixed feelings as Jr. reminds him of himself.
  • White Shirt of Death: Michael Sr. himself at the end.
  • You Remind Me of X: An inversion of the regular usage, see Parental Favoritism above.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Michael believes this is how his father feels about him. He is wrong.

Alternative Title(s):

Road To Perdition