The Road To Perdition, starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, Dreamworks, 2002
I have spent a lot of time in this space writing about my corner boy experiences growing up in my old Irish and Italian working class neighborhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I have also spent some time talking about the corner boys who just immediately preceded us in the early 1950s. Pretty tame really although if you were on the receiving end of a vicious beating, got your money stolen in some back alley, or had your personal household possessions ransacked or stolen by some midnight shifter your perspective might not be so romantic. The “corner boys,” Irish and Italian mainly, of 1930s Great Depression Chicago though, as portrayed in the film under review, The Road to Perdition, make all that other stuff seem “punk” by comparison.
Of course the motives to join a gang of lumpenproletarians in all cases were the same then, and today. That is “where the money was” to paraphrase the old-time famous bank robber, Willy Sutton. No question all those guys in the 1930s and later were (and are) from hunger. But also looking for the quick dollar and the “no heavy lifting” life not associated with steady working class factory every day values. Equally true is the fact that there are always more “hungry” guys than the market can bear which leads to two things-external “turf wars” between gangs and internal turf wars over who controls what within gangs. And that is the heart of this story.
The problem for Tom Hanks, a trusted, very trusted, enforcer (read: “hit man”) for Irish mob boss Paul Newman (he of many such corner boy roles going back to Cool Hand Luke and before) is that Newman's psychotic son wants his share of the goodies as befits a son and heir apparent. Needless to say that things get dicey, very dicey as they maneuver to the top, including the gangland-style execution of Hanks’ family that was suppose to include a son, the narrator of the film, who is forced to help Hanks’ seek the inevitable revenge required by the situation. In the end though Tom Waits is right in the opening line from Jersey Girl- “Ain’t got no time for the corner boys, down in the streets making all that noise.” A nice cinematically-pleasing 1930s period piece and what turned out to be a great farewell performance by the late Paul Newman.