Hanks is Michael Sullivan: by day a devoted family man by night a gangland enforcer in Depression-era Chicago carrying out brutal missions for the patriarch of the Irish mob John Rooney (Newman). Rooney also happens to have been a surrogate father to the orphaned Sullivan and the actual father of a witless conniving offspring Connor (Daniel Craig). Connor causes one of Sullivan's jobs to go awry--and worse the bullet-riddled outcome is witnessed by Sullivan's eldest son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin). Suddenly the Sullivan family is marked for death by the Rooney clan with tragic consequences. As Michael Jr. struggles with the horror of his family's murder and the knowledge of his father's bloody business Sullivan embarks on a vicious vengeful quest to even the score--discovering various levels of deception; encountering real-life Chicago mobster Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci); battling the eccentric photo-obsessed hit man Maguire (Jude Law); and all the while struggling to salvage his son's soul as he travels literally and figuratively down the road to perdition.
Once again Hanks delivers a master-level class in movie acting creating a complex compelling portrait of a tortured man awakened to the bloody karmic consequences of his violent occupation. Neither overt hero nor villain deftly painted in subtle shades of gray Sullivan is a new stretch for the double Oscar winner. While Hanks' inherent good-guy image helps you root for Sullivan as a protagonist he doesn't rely on a charismatic bag of movie-star tricks--he creates a real potentially unsympathetic character with blood on his hands. Few actors can rise to the challenge of wielding psychological command over Hanks but Newman is perfectly cast as the powerful Rooney another double-sided coin alternately oozing grandfatherly charm and deadly menace. There's no end of pleasure in watching these two cinematic heavyweights share scenes even when they're simply exchanging portentous looks. Law delivers a revelatory portrayal in what in other hands could have been a hackneyed movie killer blending a loopy bounce and verve with pathologically sick impulses. Tucci meanwhile proves he is ever eminently watchable. Unfortunately the weaker links in the cast of fathers and sons are the sons themselves. As Michael Jr. young Hoechlin is appropriately sweet-faced innocent and earnest but his darker edges and ambivalence toward his father never come to life on screen. As Connor Craig veers widely between a weak-willed daddy's boy and a clever schemer never quite bridging the gap.
In only his second outing since his magnificent debut Sam Mendes delivers a change-up pitch trading the heat energy and acid wit of his first and Oscar-winning film American Beauty for a more operatic elegiac tone. Gangster movies (even about Irish gangsters) tend to bring out the aspiring artiste in directors but while this great-looking film is visually rendered by cinematographer Conrad Hall in beautiful shadowy tones offset by scenes brimming with light and life--and the blood-red violence is artfully stylized--it lacks the pop hiss and crackle that set American Beauty apart. This film is traditional--actually near reverential--to the sturm und drang style put forth by cinematic cosa nostra chroniclers like Francis Ford Coppola Michael Cimino and Martin Scorsese almost to a fault. Screenwriter David Self (Thirteen Days) adroitly expands and deepens the original tale put forth in Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner's graphic novel while staying true to the pulpy comic-book source material (and its inspiration the Japanese samurai comic "Lone Wolf & Cub") yet too many crucial scenes have the ring of predictability. What's missing is the pitch-black unexpected edgy poetry now associated with Mendes. Perdition is an admirable effort bolstered by near-heroic acting but there's still a sense of letdown when a Hanks/Mendes mob movie while high-flying doesn't soar to the stratospheric heights we might hope for.
Well, the February sweeps are finally over.
Once the remainder of NBC's "10th Kingdom" is flushed from the system, it will all be just a distant memory. Regis Philbin won, if you were scoring along at home. If the February sweeps were like network TV's playoffs, Regis was Michael Jordan -- only shorter and dressed like a bootlegger from the 1920s.
The good news? Now that the quarter-hour numbers don't mean as much to the bean counters, you might find a few higher-quality shows on the air -- not that Fox's "Robbie Knievel: Head On Train Jump" wasn't "high quality" as head on train jumps go. ... But, um ... Hey, everybody, let's get ready for those mid-season replacements!
-- Right after HBO's "The Sopranos" airs today at 8 p.m. (this is old news, but yes, the series really is as good as everybody says it is), stay tuned for "If These Walls Could Talk 2" (9 p.m. EST/PST). It's a long overdue look at changing lesbian lifestyles from the 1960s through 1990s. Vanessa Redgrave, Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Williams ("Dawson's Creek") and Oscar-nominee Chloe Sevigny ("Boys Don't Cry") star in the kind of film that portrays lesbianism in a more positive light than we are used to seeing on TV -- you know, minus the laugh track and drooling men. It's sort of "lesbianism for women," if that makes any sense. Howard Stern spoke the truth when he said "lesbians equal ratings." But we're not sure this is what he had in mind.
-- No longer afraid of losing good shows in the crush of all those February network "specials," cable's USA network premieres two pretty good "based on actual events" originals this week. Producer Shaun Cassidy, a former teen "heartthrob" who will never live down his past if we have anything to say about it and the creator of the intensely spooky but short-lived "American Gothic," is the scribe behind the first episode of "Cover Me" (8 p.m. EST/PST today). It's an hour-long drama about an FBI agent who feels that the best way to keep his family safe from the bad guys is to put the wife and kiddies to work on his cases -- so, um, they can be more directly in the line of fire. You know, that doesn't sound like the greatest plan in the world, but it might make a good TV show. ... Hey wait a minute! Oh, nevermind.
-- And Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST/PST, USA offers the made-for-cable movie "The Huntress." If the title alone hasn't sold you, it also stars Annette O'Toole! And if, like us, you're not sure who that is (actually she's very famous and was in "Nash Bridges"), it's also based on the true story of Dottie Thorson! And if, again, you're not sure who that is, either, you'll just have to take our word that this movie is pretty cool. When a (based-on-a-real-person) professional bounty hunter (Craig T. Nelson) explodes in his driveway, his (based-on-real-people) wife (O'Toole) and daughter (Aleksa Palladino) decide to press on with the family business. It's smart and funny in a seedy Quentin Tarantino kind of way ... the good Tarantino, before "Destiny Turns on the Radio" and that vampire movie.
-- Kevin Spacey takes the chair on Bravo's always interesting interview show "Inside the Actor's Studio" (8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST today). Count on the intrepidly probing host, James Lipton, to get a lot out of the Best Actor Oscar nominee (for "American Beauty") in this hour.
-- And an hour later (at 9 p.m. EST/PST), E! premieres another installment of its stately "True Hollywood Story" doc series. This time the subject is Burt Reynolds. From his days as a No. 1 box-office attraction (long before "Stroker Ace," and "Cop and a Half," if you're trying to remember) to Loni Anderson to Dinah Shore to ... You know, if Burt Reynolds hasn't actually done it all, he's certainly done most of it. This should be pretty good.
-- Fox reanimates "Family Guy" for another run Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. EST/PST. It's a funny toon and certainly deserves a regular spot in its struggling line-up (not that worth ever stopped a network from canceling anything before). Meanwhile, NBC finally moves into the 1990s (in the year 2000, no less) and joins the animation revolution by giving a prime spot (right behind "Friends") to the mid-season replacement "God, the Devil and Bob" (8:30 p.m. EST/PST Thursday). When all creation seems to have lost its luster, God (voiced by James Garner) gambles with the devil (Tony-winner Alan Cumming) that a guy named Bob ("3rd Rock from the Sun" co-star French Stewart) can restore his faith in humanity. If Bob isn't up to the task, then basically the universe becomes a "do-over." Don't knock "Bob," yet. It's got to be better than "Jesse."
-- Hoping to capitalize on the ratings success CBS had with the Grammys last month, VH-1 will televise the "Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony" (9 p.m. EST/PST Wednesday). Inductees include Eric Clapton, the Lovin' Spoonful, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lopez is busy (picking up boyfriend Puff Daddy at court is like a full-time job now), so Clapton has volunteered to "take one for the team" and wear the thin-strips-of-delicate-fabric-taped-to-the-breasts outfit.
-- And finally, the Sci-Fi Channel will be running the entire "Indiana Jones" trilogy on consecutive nights this week. If you don't know what we're talking about, the "Indiana Jones" movies are about an archeologist who travels around and digs for ancient artifacts. (They're a lot better than they sound). Anyway, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. (EST/PST), followed by "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (8 p.m. EST/PST Wednesday) and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (8 p.m. EST/PST Thursday). As an extra-special treat, Sci-Fi is presenting the flicks in extra-special widescreen format. Sounds like hunkering down time in front of the television.