One part crime saga, two parts family drama, Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes' stirring follow-up to 1999's ''American Beauty,'' falls squarely between genres. Though it masquerades as a slick gangster thriller, the picture is more natural a companion to its director's suburban-set debut than to any Mob flick. Sure, the adventure of hitman Tom Hanks and son Tyler Hoechlin takes place in a tommy-gun-filled 1931, but it really amounts to another frank, timely tale of a doomed middle-American dad who's lost his focus and can't communicate with his kid.
''Perdition'' was an early Academy Award favorite, but its only major nod went to supporting-actor contender Paul Newman as Hanks' ambivalent Irish godfather. A palpable tension percolates between these titans, and it's nice to see that Mendes has matured enough to let the steely-sad stares of his actors impart deep-seated emotion, where in ''Beauty'' he resorted to crass histrionics. He's also more willing to let his story play out via the meticulous, masterful cinematography of the late Conrad L. Hall (an Oscar winner for ''Beauty'') -- a virtue since, even on the small screen, Hall's work truly blows the mind.