Director Sam Mendes directs this solid crime drama based on the book by Max Allan Collins. Tom Hanks stars as Michael Sullivan along with Paul Newman who plays John Rooney. They have a touching, but morbid, spirit of cooperation that’s often unspoken (note the piano scene near the beginning). “This is the life we chose. The life we lead. And one thing is for certain. None of us will see heaven,” says John while Michael answers with a reference to his personal wish for a special character’s redemption.
These two actors alone could sustain this Oscar worthy film, so the amazing supporting cast including Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley, A.I.) as Maguire, Stanley Tucci (Big Night, America’s Sweethearts) as Frank Nitti and newcomer Tyler Hoechlin who plays Sullivan’s son, boost the film’s appeal to a very high level. John’s son, Connor, initiates the main conflict in the plot which eventually engulfs all the characters, especially Sullivan.
The film benefits from technical talent as well, like the superior cinematography by Conrad L.Hall, the musical score by Thomas Newman (Shawshank Redemption, Erin Brockovich) and Mendes’ various camera techniques and high attention to light and sound. Mendes uses subtle, highly visible camera shots (a bike in the snow, a bead of sweat running down a main character’s face) to develop the characters and drive the film’s emotions to the heart of the audience, then uses more creative techniques such as mirrors shots during key actions, often involving violence, in the plot.
Notice how partial visuals and sounds of the violence have a deeper impact than displaying it in a full screen shot full of gore and bullets like so many other films do. Mendes uses sound in the film’s most violent sequence, but it’s the sounds unrelated to weapons that have the most impact.
Later in the plot, Mendes omits sound for much of an important exterior sequence to focus on the visual impact of character action. Some actions may be predictable, but the artful filmmaking and strong characters should sustain any audience throughout the one hour and 59 minute running time. Highly recommended and rated R for violence and language.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler