Michael Sullivan Sr. is an enforcer for Irish mob boss John Rooney in Rock Island, Illinois during the Great Depression. Rooney raised the orphan Sullivan and loves him more than his own biological son, the unstable Connor. Connor snaps and kills disgruntled associate Finn McGovern when meeting him with Sullivan, resulting in Sullivan gunning down McGovern’s men. Sullivan’s twelve-year-old son Michael Sullivan, Jr had hidden in his father’s car and witnesses the event. Despite Sullivan swearing his son to secrecy and Rooney pressuring Connor to apologize for the reckless action, Connor murders Sullivan’s wife Annie and younger son Peter, mistaking him for Sullivan, Jr. He then sends Sullivan to an ambush at a speakeasy but Sullivan realizes and escapes to Chicago with his son to seek Al Capone, for work and to discover the location of Connor, who has gone into hiding.
There are many stories about Michael Sullivan. Some say he was a decent man. Some say there was no good in him at all. But I once spent 6 weeks on the road with him, in the winter of 1931. This is our story.
Michael Sullivan, Jr.
Video: Road to Perdition
The film’s title, Road to Perdition, is both Michael Sullivan and his son’s destination town and a euphemism for Hell, a road that Sullivan desires to prevent his son from traveling. Sullivan, who chooses his violent path early on in life, considers himself irredeemable and seeks to save his son from a similar fate. Said Mendes, “[Sullivan] is in a battle for the soul of his son. Can a man who has led a bad life achieve redemption through his child?”
Hanks described his character as a man who achieved a comfortable status through violent means, whose likely repercussions he ignored. When Sullivan is faced with the consequences, Hanks says, “At the moment we’re dropped into the story, it is literally the last day of that false perspective.”
To keep Hanks’ character from justifying his violent actions in the film, Mendes omitted scenes in the final cut that had Sullivan explaining his background to his son.