Seen at the Movies:

Road to Perdition

, like director Sam Mendes' previous film American Beauty, seems doomed to be overrated. That's partly because of the movie's genuine quality, which is touted and inflated in a kind of artistic chest puffing. Every shot and detail feel meticulously planned, and you can't help but be impressed by Mendes' confident skill, which is really remarkable for a second-time film director. Yet, especially viewed in retrospect, Road to Perdition is too tightly sewn up, and so carefully done as to be utterly unspontaneous. If Mendes could loosen up, he might become the master some people are already proclaiming him to be.


Hanks and Hoechlin in Perdition

Road to Perdition is based on a graphic novel written by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner, and its plotting and thematic content have a primal power that may derive from the source. At the same time, the film doesn't really bloom into the kind of sweeping, novelistic saga one may wish. The story is set in a gangster-ridden 1931 Midwest, specifically in and around Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois. In what we keep being reminded is a change-of-pace role, Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a hit man working for local crime boss John Rooney (Paul Newman), who has loved Sullivan as his own child. Sullivan himself has a wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two sons, and the story is told through the eyes of the older one, 12-year-old Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin). When circumstances leave Sullivan's wife and younger child dead, and pit him against Rooney, he takes Michael Jr. on the lam.


A Conrad Hall shot suitable for framing

I found Road to Perdition to be consistently gripping and often moving, and the performances of Hanks, Newman, and Jude Law, who plays a scuzzy Weegee-style photographer who sometimes kills his subjects himself, are wonderful (though Hoechlin is a bit inexpressive). As on American Beauty, Mendes gets a crucial assist from DP Conrad L. Hall, ASC, who channels Edward Hopper and his own aesthetic genius to deliver images fit for mounting at the rate of 24 frames-per-second here. (If Hanks and Newman are American acting icons, then Hall is their cinematographic counterpart.) Though the movie has the look of bleach bypass, its monochromatic patina derives mostly from the muted palette used by production designer Dennis Gassner and costume designer Albert Wolsky. Everything looks completely authentic, yet also relentlessly stylized. The film is unmistakably an art thing, if not a work of art, but it demands to be seen. --John Calhoun

Heard in New York: Architect Hugh Hardy, FAIA, principal of the Manhattan-based Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA) and the mastermind behind such projects as the renovation of the New Amsterdam Theatre, will receive the AIA President's Award at the black-tie 2002 Heritage Ball, to be held October 29, 2002 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Hosted by the New York Chapter of the AIA (www.aiany.org) and the New York Foundation for Architecture, the event will also celebrate the AIA's annual design awards. Bruce Ratner and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers will also receive President's Awards.--Ellen Lampert-Greaux

Heard on the Grapevine: Murphy Lighting Systems of Orlando, FL, has just completed installation work on two new ground-level CNN Studios in New York's Time-Life Building. The studios will play host to the shows American Morning with Paula Zahn and Connie Chung Tonight. Murphy Lighting Systems has provided lighting, dimming, and control systems for all of CNN's 24/7 studios in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and London for more than 20 years.--JC

Heard at Lunch in New York City: Mark Burlace, the North American representative for Selecon of New Zealand, stopped by on his last day in Manhattan before leaving for the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, where he takes care of the lighting for a multi-venue space called the Assembly Theatre. The lighting rig will be provided by UK's Stage Electrics, and Burlace will also have the opportunity to try out some new Selecon gear. A New Zealander by birth, Burlace started as a technician at the Maidment Theatre in Auckland before moving on to London, where he worked on various West End projects (including a stint as board operator for Saturday Night Fever). Based in New York City for a six-month stint with Selecon's US dealers, Burlace is looking to eventually hire a homegrown sales and marketing person. "We will be looking for someone with insight into the American market," he points out, "in order to take the company to the next level locally." Once Burlace has effectively replaced himself, he will return to New Zealand, where Selecon just completed a move into a new factory facility, which is four times larger than their former space. The house-warming party is planned for sometime this winter. Bring on the Maori dancers, please!--ELG