Killer Instinct

Hanks isn't responsible for Perdition's first killing, but Hollywood's Mr. Nice Guy authors much of the carnage that follows. Early script drafts were actually bleaker; not only was there more killing, Sullivan was an alcoholic. "In the streamlining of the film, those things were lost," says Self. "The philosophy was 'less is more.'"

Similarly, Hanks created much of Sullivan's conflicted menace by keeping him quiet, cutting dialogue wherever possible, especially lines that betrayed any sense of self-awareness. Some sly directing also helped. "We hold the man at arm's length from the audience for the first half hour," explains Mendes. "We put the audience in the shoes of the boy who doesn't understand his father; in a way, the film was assisting Hanks the whole time."

Mendes also cut any scene in which Sullivan comes close to justifying himself--like an ambitious tracking shot in which Sullivan chases Michael Jr. through a muddy forest, catches him, and sits him down for a heart-to-heart. "I had everyone up at 5 a.m., making rain and hanging f---ing icicles from the branches--and I cut the scene! It was just too much 'But why do you kill people, Dad?'" says Mendes with a whiny kid voice.

The sum total of all these decisions is a Tom Hanks rarely seen on screen. Cold. Detached. Unlikable, even. But strange as that may seem, Mendes thinks America is ready for a morally ambiguous Tom Hanks. "Audiences need him again. He's our moral weather vane. And it's very appropriate that post-Sept. 11, he should be playing this character who's not all good, who's dealing with a violent world and trying to make sense of it," says Mendes. "I really believe that."

Paul newman is 77 years old. if this interview had taken place earlier in the day, you'd probably be reading the words "surprisingly spry for his age" in this space. But it's late afternoon, the day's publicity work has left him drained, and Newman looks...well, like a 77-year-old man. But the mind is very much alive. Ask him a question, and his head bows, his eyelids droop--and suddenly, he's using the phrase "torrent of sperm." The question, by the way, was "How do you feel about being called 'a living legend?'"

"Living legend," he says. "All right, then. But what do I have to do with that? The answer is 'Very f---ing little.' If you think about that torrent of sperm out there, and yours was lucky enough to land in Chicago, St. Louis, wherever--it's the luck of the draw."

Okay. (It's Paul Newman. The Hustler. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If you want to argue with him, go ahead.)

"Intimidating," says Hanks of his first meeting with Newman. Practicing for the first time the piano duet he and Newman play during a wake--a melancholy showstopper--Hanks found himself in the throes of a "pinch me" moment. And though Jude Law shot only one scene with Newman (cut by Mendes for pacing reasons, the sequence also featured a cameo by Anthony LaPaglia as Al Capone), he relished the experience, nonetheless. "The opportunity to just sit and watch Paul Newman work was just joyous," says Law, adding that the actor has always been one of his role models. "His artistry, his charity--he's the blueprint, really." Watching Hanks and Newman, Law was struck by similarities. "They both possess incredible concentration and incredible professionalism," he says. "Neither of them behave like divas or fools; they are who they are because they are incredibly talented and just really nice guys."