Movies: Darkness Visible

Tom Hanks is a hit man and Paul Newman his boss in the summer's most engrossing and stylish film

Perdition is a fancy word for hell. It's also one of those curiously ironic names 19th century settlers gave to odd corners of the American landscape. But Sam Mendes' darkly imaginative and powerfully enfolding movie Road to Perdition offers a third, more ironic definition: it's a kind of paradise, a sun-swept beach, complete with a playful, welcoming dog, that a man and his son struggle against malevolent forces to attain--and then lose in an instant.

The paradoxical title offers the best clue to the movie's complex meaning. This road is littered with bad intentions; almost everyone who embarks on it comes...

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