Road to Perdition

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Sep 08, 2010
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Sam Mendes

Release Date(s)

2003 (August 3, 2010)

Studio(s)

DreamWorks/20th Century Fox (Paramount)

Review

There’s a moment in the lives of most young men, when you finally begin to understand the person your father really is.  It’s a moment when all the heroic or other unrealistic imaginings fall away, leaving only the reality behind.  Sometimes that reality is better than you expect, sometimes worse.  But it’s an important moment, because the choices you make in light of that knowledge will serve to define the man you’ll one day become.  Road to Perdition is about just such a time.

Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hired thug, a gangster, who does “errands” for mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman).  Michael is Rooney’s favorite son, though the two are not related by blood.  Rooney’s actual son, Connor (Daniel Craig), doesn’t get the same kind of approval from his father that Michael does, which makes him terribly envious.  Michael’s two sons have no idea what their father does for a living, but his oldest boy is starting to suspect that it might not be on the up and up.  So one evening, he sneaks into his father’s car and tags along as Michael and Connor run one of John’s errands.  Through Connor’s arrogance, the boy sees his father commit murder.  And when his presence is discovered, Connor finds the excuse he needs to take action against Michael.  The resulting tragic events send Michael and his son on an unforgettable journey of survival and redemption.  Road to Perdition is a film about the lengths that fathers will go to to protect their sons... and things that sons will do to win their fathers’ approval.

Director Sam Mendes’ work is neigh perfect here.  Every on-screen element is utilized to maximize the emotional impact.  The characters are illuminated not by endless dialogue and exposition, but rather by their actions and expressions.  This is a gangster film where we don’t see the visceral on-screen violence so much as we see the emotional result of that violence.  The film’s effectiveness is also due in no small part to the extraordinary cinematography of Conrad Hall (who also shot Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Marathon Man among many other films).  Every scene, every shot, is gorgeously lit and carefully crafted to move the story forward.  We’re drawn inexorably into the atmosphere of each visual space.  The on-screen canvas is richly textured and meticulously layered.  From the vast, open plains of the American Midwest, to the decaying industrial might and cold, Art Deco splendor of 1930s Chicago, each environment in the film is presented in exquisite detail.  Sadly, Road to Perdition was the final work of Hall’s long career... but what a fitting swan song it was.  This is the kind of film I thought they didn’t make anymore.

The Blu-ray’s HD video image is appropriately gorgeous.  This film is all about textures and shading, and thankfully both the contrast and fine detail in evidence here are terrific.  Blacks are deep and rich.  The color has been desaturated here by design - this could almost be a B&W film noir.  But what color there is accurate to the intent.  The subtle visual details of brick, earth, fabric, rain – they’re all crisply visible without appearing edgy.  The print is clean, with very light grain.  The DTS-HD 5.1 lossless mix is also highly pleasing, with a smooth and natural sound field that envelops the viewer in the film’s spaces.  Clarity is excellent, and the LFE and overall dynamic range will surprise you.  The film’s soundtrack is mostly filled with quiet, sparse moments, but every once in a while the thunderous rattle of gunfire will really hit you like a tangible force.  This is a wonderful A/V presentation that serves the film perfectly.

The previous DVD release of this film (the Dolby Digital version at any rate), included an excellent audio commentary by Mendes, the 25-minute HBO featurette The Making of Road to Perdition, 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary and a promotional spot for the soundtrack CD.  In other words, a couple of good things but not much.  That was a bit disappointing, because the Academy Awards screener DVD for the film (which I also own) was actually a 2-disc set that added a short but touching Conrad Hall retrospective and a number of cast and crew interview clips.  Thankfully, this is one of those rare cases where a studio has actually put real effort into the HD upgrade of one of their catalog releases.  This new Blu-ray includes everything that was on the original DVD (save for the soundtrack spot, which you won’t miss), and adds MUCH new content.  There’s a new introduction to the film by Mendes in full HD.  There’s an all-new, 26-minute tribute piece, A Cinematic Life: The Art and Influence of Conrad Hall, also in HD.  (It’s not the same as the one on the Academy screener, but it’s actually better.)  You even get the film’s theatrical trailer in HD as well.  On top of all that, Paramount has added a BD-Java interactive option called The Library: A Further Exploration of the World of Road to Perdition, featuring photos, text and interview clips that cover everything from real historical organized crime, to vintage crime scene photography and even the original graphic novel the film is based on.  If you’re a fan of the film, this disc just makes you happy from start to finish.

I absolutely love Road to Perdition, and I’m delighted to see it finally get the treatment it deserves on disc – and on Blu-ray no less!  The presentation quality here is superb and the extras have only gotten better for high-definition.  No fan could ask for more than that.  Highly recommended.

- Bill Hunt

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