This is a beautiful looking movie. Sombre in mood and palette with respect to colour, emotion and light. It mostly fulfils its artistic pretensions and depicts 1930’s America with a sweeping and tobacco/bourbon flavoured grandeur. And yes, it has Paul Newman blowing everyone else off the screen with a perfectly balanced depiction of pathos, power and ruthlessness.
So what have we got? Gangster retribution, Tom Hanks as a vaguely emotionless cipher looking for revenge and a rather obvious parallel to the godfather and Don Corleone not wanting ‘Michael’ to join the family business. The difference here though is that it is all shot through with a kind of distant poetical sensibility – it’s as though we are watching a slightly rose tinted view of the story, perhaps one that is turned on the page of a child’s book…Which, actually, is exactly where we are.
The set pieces are sublime. Paul Newman gunned down in the pouring rain and the flashes of light from a distant tommy gun are images that will remain forever retina burnt. The final scene, which is a kind of mobster version of the video of ‘imagine’ by John Lennon, is visually sparse, sumptuous and effecting at the same time.
This is a great film but I think the main/only problem with it, is Tom Hanks. Sure he plays the piece perfectly, but old Tom is one of those actors who unfortunately cannot transcend their own innate star power and character. Tom is a nice guy. Despite the dodgy moustache it’s still Tom. Watching him accept the killing of his wife and child as though it were simply a minor business debt that needed repaying, just feels a little out of sorts. Plus he does something funny with his top lip.
Anyway. Jude Law is suitably weird, compelling and creepy, Daniel Craig as the useless son of crime lord Paul Newman does the ‘sonny’ part extremely well, while the overall aesthetic is Edward Hopper-esque eye candy of the highest order. Conrad Hall, the director of photography, fills this, his last film, with brilliant yet subtle tonalities of light and shade – for that alone, it’s worth many a viewing.
Sam Mendes applies a British eye to the American gangster pantheon and pulls it off superbly, although as mentioned before there is a kind of emotional distance going on. I guess it’s a cerebral gangster movie – one that is pitched with a certain aloofness and detachment. I felt I should have wept buckets at the end, but instead I felt the feeling you get when opening an old set of drawers and finding sepia tinted photos of a long dead family, that when discovered emit a scent of lilac and camphor….
Actually then, job done. Great movie. Watch it.