As far as gangster films go Road to Perdition is pretty soft, but in many ways more effective. Michael Sullivan Sr and Jr are forced to run from the mob family that once protected them and the film is as much about the bond between father and son as it is about revenge. The son goes from sitting in the back seat of the car to driving it, and the father begins to quietly acknowledge his feelings for the boy - 'I was afraid you were like me.' The violence, when it happens, is cleverly handled by Sam Mendes. In one scene at least eight men are gunned down, but the sound of gunfire is muted, with the slow soundtrack playing instead. It's a decision that takes you out of the scene but at the same time holds your attention. In another scene, the cycling sound of waves is constantly beating, starting peacefully but eventually becoming ominous. According to Mendes 'The linking of water with death... speaks of the mutability of water and links it to the uncontrollability of fate.' I didn't get that when I was watching, but you can tell the director thinks these things through.
I'm reminded of the criticism that Public Enemies came under for using a modern filming style. Road to Perdition is the opposite but at the same time fresh - it's slow and winding rather than intense and fidgety. There's a lot to be said for both styles, but I wonder whether this would have been completely different under other direction. As it is, it's unsettlingly flawless.