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DreamWorks presents
Road To Perdition (2002)

"There are only murderers in this room Michael! Open your eyes! This is the life we chose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see heaven."
- John Rooney (Paul Newman)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: February 23, 2003

Stars: Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Paul Newman
Other Stars: Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tyler Hoechiln, Daniel Craig
Director: Sam Mendes

MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Run Time: 01h:19m:47s
Release Date: February 25, 2003
UPC: 678149014723
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-A- B+

DVD Review

Road to Perdition is steeped in a world with dark atmosphere and even darker inhabitants. The characters are similar to those of the great Greek tragedies, and the story carries the powerful message of family and love amidst utter immorality and betrayal. But what is central is perhaps the simplest overall element of the film: it's about fathers and sons, and conveys this theme beautifully.

Adapted from the graphic novel by Max Allen Collins and Richard Priers Rayner, Road To Perdition represents the follow up film from American Beauty director Sam Mendes, and it reassures that Mendes is an undeniable talent. Working again with the now late cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, Mendes skillfully presents the material present, and better yet, he seems to understand the underlying textures of the story.

Michael Sullivan, Sr. (Hanks) is an enforcer for local mob boss John Rooney (Newman) in a small Illinois town during the Great Depression. Rooney is a surrogate father to Sullivan, who has been close to the older man since he was adopted as a small child. Rooney has another son, this one biological, named Connor (Craig), whose jealousy of the relationship between his father and Sullivan has driven him to the edge of bitterness. When Sullivan’s wife (Leigh) and children (Hoechlin and Liam Aiken) are attacked by associates of Connor, only Michael Jr. survives, leaving Michael Sr. no choice but to flee with his son and seek revenge against the man he loved like a father. Along the way, the pair extract revenge by emptying bank accounts held by Al Capone, who is an associate of Rooney, while they attempt to outrun an assassin named McGuire (Law), who will stop at nothing until the senior Sullivan is dead.

As I mentioned above, the dilemma faced by the lead characters parallels those found in Greek tragedies. John Rooney must place his loyalty with his biological son over his surrogate one, even though he has a closer relationship with Michael. But in order to save his family, he must kill the person who threatens it. It is a paradox that Mendes and screenwriter David Self handle very nicely, as they never allow the material to become overly melodramatic. Lies and deceptions are treated like everyday life and are never overblown, allowing the film to move at a nice easy pace, rather than becoming an overdone revenge piece.

The film has an atmosphere akin to The Godfather in terms of both cinematography and production design. The lavish set pieces and use of shadows and light by cinematographer Hall represents some of the best work Hollywood has offered in many years. Hall in particular deserves a posthumous Academy Award® for the way in which the climactic scenes are filmed amidst a night rain, which gives the sequences an added power and presence.

With a trio of actors that span three generations the performancesare the absolute definition of perfection. Hanks, who for the first time plays a character with no clear moral compass, offers an effective portrayal as Michael Sullivan, a flawed man. He loves his family and is a good father, but he is not perfect, and Hanks does a great job at conveying every emotional level of Michael. Newman is the standout in the cast as he smolders with an intensity conveyed through expression, not grandstanding. Newman has one scene in a church basement that is powerful and heartbreaking; with any justice, he will be awarded a second Oscar® for his work. Finally, Jude Law plays the evil and sadistic McGuire with the zeal and charisma he has so often displayed. Unrecognizable under heavy makeup—and less hair—Law brings sympathy to what could have been a throwaway character.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The work of Conrad L. Hall is represented nicely in the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, though the results are less than I had hoped for. The darkness that covers the film is the biggest problem with the image, as black levels, though strong, are often a bit too dark. This is offset, though, by the terrific sharpness and detail of the transfer. Look at the scene set in the jazz club towards the start of the film. Each of the brighter colors is close to popping off of the screen with the papers and other items on the desk of the club manager looking crisp and detailed. Colors, when present, are done nicely with no bleeding apparent, while I noticed some slight grain and mild edge enhancement. Overall a nice transfer that I feel could have been something amazing.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: DreamWorks has chosen to release Road to Perdition in separate DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes. Though the DTS release also features the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the Dolby Digital 5.1 edition offers one more bonus feature. The one reviewed here is that with the Dolby Digital 5.1. That said, this is an immersive track that really puts you into the film in terms of ambience. The score by composer Thomas Newman is lush and inviting as it envelops the room. The split surrounds get a few nice instances of use, especially in the hotel room shootout as well as the closing sequences. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, while the .1 LFE gets a little bit of work as backup for the score as well as some shotgun blasts here and there.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Sam Mendes
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. still gallery
  2. soundtrack promo
Extras Review: Director Sam Mendes gets a full-length commentary track and, simply put, it is phenomenal. Mendes goes into great depth as he discusses the story, the crew, budgeting and expectations, and of course, his outstanding cast. What is most interesting about the track is that Mendes never lets the discussion lapse at all. His comments are consistently fresh and informative, the best of which involve the translation from the novel to the finished film.

Eleven deleted scenes make up the other notable extra feature, presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen with optional commentary by Mendes. Many are slow and deserved exclusion from the final cut, but one in particular calls attention. Anthony LaPaglia portrays Al Capone in one deleted scene ad his performance is so full of energy I feel it should have been kept in the film. Though Mendes seems to think that it takes away from the film, the performance by LaPaglia is so energetic that he makes Capone seem like the imposing figure he is thought to be.

The extra feature that is a bonus on the Dolby Digital 5.1 edition is an HBO First Look documentary. This is a largely promotional piece that features some nice interviews but gives no insight into the depth of the story. It is a good way to spend half an hour, but I would choose having a DTS track rather than to have this documentary in my collection.

Finally, a soundtrack promo, filmographies, production notes, as well as a collection of still photographs round out the extra features.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Largely—and wrongly I might say—ignored in the recent Oscar® nominations, this is a film that will comfortably stand beside Goodfellas and The Godfather as a mob masterpiece. Boasting impeccable technical credits as well as a trio of powerful performances, Road To Perdition represents the best that film has to offer.

The DVD is a simple and eloquent release with great image and sound portions, as well as an impeccable commentary by Mendes. Highly recommended.


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