Oscar buzz for Tom Hanks and Paul Newman helped steer Road to Perdition to a strong $22.1 million box office on its opening weekend. But the Capone-era mobster drama left almost as many holes as a tommy gun.

— RAISING HELL Aside from a fictional town in the film, what the devil is perdition? In a survey of 100 Times Square filmgoers, fewer than one fifth knew the word means ”eternal damnation.” Costar Tyler Hoechlin, 14, says he ran to a dictionary after landing his role. Director Sam Mendes admits: ”I was nervous about the title. Steven Spielberg said, ‘That’s what they said about Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ You can’t argue with that.”

— ICED OUT Though wakes in the 1930s (like the one in Perdition) may have kept corpses on ice, embalming was the norm by the early 1900s, says William Counce, director of the funeral services program at Alabama’s Jefferson State Community College. Why the ice? Explains production designer Dennis Gassner: ”The thawing traces the arc of the relationship” between Hanks and Hoechlin.

— ‘DESERT’ BLOOM While Road recalls gangster classics like The Godfather, a background marquee touts the 1931 Clark Gable Western The Painted Desert, in which an orphan tries to settle a feud between the two ranchers who found him as a baby in a deserted camp. Gassner says they sought an obscure title with a father-son theme: ”Do we want to make it simple all the time?”

— NITTI GRITTY As Capone capo Frank Nitti, Stanley Tucci orders hits without bloodying his pinstripes. Yet in 1987’s The Untouchables, Billy Drago played Nitti as a white-suited goon gunning down rivals. Which was it? The real Nitti showed shades of both portraits, says Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia author Jerry Capeci, but ”taking the gun out of his hands is probably not accurate.”

Road to Perdition
  • Movie
  • 116 minutes