‘Road to Perdition’s’ Score Got Me in My Feels

My simple rule is this: if it has a Thomas Newman score, I will watch it.

by Kali Tuttle
Road to Perdition

Thomas Newman is my all-time favorite film composer. I love his scores for Cinderella Man, Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mileand Road to Perdition. I don’t know a lot about music theory, but I do know that Newman’s scores always evoke strong emotion both in the film and in me. More often than not, they make me cry.

Road to Perdition is a great exemplar of exactly what his scores can do. They generally take on a morose tone, as the movie begins in a tough, unforgiving environment with some glimpses of happiness. It will delve deeper and darker for most of the movie until the film’s climax and a few lighthearted moments.

Newman can make you long for a past you never had; he makes it possible to feel nostalgia for something you’ve never experienced. That’s an amazing gift and one he puts to use in Road to Perdition, especially in the following few scenes.

The Drive to Murder

Road to Perdition revolves around Michael Sullivan Sr. (Tom Hanks), a mob enforcer. One night, him and a colleague, Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) are sent to “speak” with a disgruntled employee of their boss, John Rooney (Paul Newman). It was supposed to be a simple chat, but Connor, a sadistic man, shoots the employee in the head.

One could have foreseen this happening with the menacing score that swelled as the two enforcers approached the warehouse that the employee was in. The overall tone is one of mystery, especially as Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) hunkers down in the backseat of the car, unbeknownst to Michael Sr. or Connor.

When Connor discovers Michael Jr. spying on the two, the culmination of suspense breaks. We find Michael huddled in the snow after witnessing the traumatic event, the score sadly crooning his feelings. It’s a painfully beautiful moment accentuated by a harrowing score.

Bank Robbery Montage

When the father and son duo end up on the run, Michael Sr. resorts to stealing dirty money from banks. He recruits Michael Jr. as the getaway driver. After some bumpy driving lessons, the two are well-oiled machines when it comes to robberies.

Newman’s score in Road to Perdition reflects the whimsy with which the scene is treated. Of course, we’d never root for bank robbers in normal situations, but this isn’t a normal situation. These are two people on the run from a vicious mob that threatens their lives after nearly destroying them. There is a hint of wonder in the score that denotes the wariness with which the audience must come to terms with the crimes our heroes are committing in the name of survival.

Overlaying it all is the strong sound of accomplishment and joy at finally getting ahead in their troubles. Michael Jr. and Michael Sr. are bonding like the father and son they are. Though it may not be in the normal ways that most fathers and sons bond, it’s the formation of a relationship long overdue for the two. The score portrays that with the quick strings and soft chimes.

Ending Connor Rooney

This is one of my favorite pieces of Road to Perdition. It reminds me of some of Newman’s work during the big fight scene in Cinderella ManThere is a deep bass tone as Michael Sr. finally nears Connor Rooney’s hotel room, building to a crescendo as he rides the elevator there. This is what the whole movie has been building to and it’s hard not to feel excited as it’s all unfolding.

With a solemn stroke of the strings and a bullet to the head, Connor Rooney is no more.

There isn’t a sense of closure yet. We know that Michael Sr. and Michael Jr. no longer have the peaceful life they feigned at before. Their family is dead and their home is no longer safe. The piece “Lexington Hotel, Room 1432” doesn’t end with a satisfactory conclusion but instead with a question: “What’s next?”


Perdition is where Michael Sr’s aunt has a summer home, which she graciously offers to Michael Sr. and Michael Jr. as their new home. It is here that the pair return to in the end, hoping to start a new life. Newman’s score is hopeful and we finally start to relax a little.

But then, a final assassin kills Michael Sr. There is no music as the murder happens, mirroring the audience’s shock at what they thought to be a happy ending. Michael Jr. says goodbye to his father tearfully and then wraps up the story with a narration about his father.

As he speaks the final words of the film, the hopeful score returns, though tinged with sadder bass notes that underlie the violence and heartbreak that preceded Michael Jr’s happy ending. After everything they went through, it’s all for naught as Michael Sr. perished in the end. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Follow MovieBabble on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Kali Tuttle @tuttle_kali2.

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