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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/28/03

Road to Perdition

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Road to Perdition - Widescreen (DTS)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround
Road to Perdition (DTS)
Widescreen - 2002 (2003) - DreamWorks/20th Century Fox (DreamWorks)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B/C+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A-

Specs and Features

117 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), audio commentary (with director Sam Mendes), 11 deleted scenes (16x9, DD 2.0 - with optional commentary by Mendes), cast and crew bios, production notes, photo gallery, CD soundtrack trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, 2.0 & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (captions), French and Spanish

Road to Perdition - Widescreen

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Road to Perdition
Widescreen - 2002 (2003) - DreamWorks/20th Century Fox (DreamWorks)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B-

Specs and Features

117 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), audio commentary (with director Sam Mendes), The Making of Road to Perdition HBO featurette (25 mins, 4x3, DD 2.0), 11 deleted scenes (16x9, DD 2.0 - with optional commentary by Mendes), cast and crew bios, production notes, photo gallery, CD soundtrack trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (captions), French and Spanish

"This is the life we chose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see heaven."

There comes a moment in the life of most young boys, when they finally begin to understand the person their father really is. It's a moment of connection and revelation, when all the heroic or other unrealistic imagery falls away, leaving only the reality of the person behind. That reality is never what you expect. Sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse. But no matter what you discover, that man is still your father. That's a very important moment, because the choices you make in the light of that knowledge serve, in many ways, to define the man you will 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 just 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 has done an amazing job with this, his second feature film (his first was American Beauty - yes, this guy really is that good). The direction here is perfect. Every element seen on-screen is carefully designed to maximize the emotional impact of the story. This is a film the likes of which they just don't make anymore in Hollywood. It's pure visual storytelling. 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 trappings of on-screen violence... we see the emotional effects of that violence instead. Rather that seeing the flash of the barrel and the bullets flying, we see the look in the eye of the shooter. This is a film well-grounded in the realism of life and death, instead of some sort of misguided, romantic notions of them. There's no explosions here, no wire-fu and no bullet time. This is pure, old-school filmmaking. And it's completely refreshing.

The extraordinary cinematography by D.P. Conrad Hall (who also shot Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Marathon Man among many other films) is equally refreshing. 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, Hall passed away in January, making Road to Perdition the last film in his career. But it's a fitting swan song indeed.

Also of note in this film are the wonderfully restrained performances by Hanks, Newman, Craig, Jude Law (as an assassin hired to kill Sullivan) and Stanley Tucci (as Al Capone's right-hand man). Newcomer Tyler Hoeclin (as young Michael, Jr.) also delivers a surprisingly subtle and engaging performance. You appreciate these characters gradually, as the film unfolds, and it becomes very easy to identify with Michael as he struggles to understand and connect with his father.

The anamorphic widescreen video on both DVD versions is generally good, if not reference quality. The film is a little too soft looking, and there's a bit too much edge-enhancement visible throughout. Still, the deliberately muted color scheme for the film is well represented here. Flesh tones are always accurate and when vibrant color does play a part, it looks quite good. Better still, contrast is excellent, with deep, dark blacks - important given the atmospheric nature of the film.

Audio-wise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 options are solid, creating a nicely wide soundstage, with excellent ambient fill from the surrounds. This isn't a dialogue-heavy film, but the dialogue always sounds clear and clean. And the haunting score by composer Thomas Newman is gorgeously layered into the mix. As one might expect, the DTS 5.1 version of the audio is somewhat improved. Not dramatically so, but the soundscape is somewhat smoother, with a measure of greater clarity and fidelity. It's the preferred choice, but if you have Dolby Digital only, you won't be disappointed.

In DreamWorks' wisdom, or lack thereof in this case, the extras on these two versions are really a mixed bag. What we should have gotten is a two-disc special edition of the film, with anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital and DTS audio and commentary on the first disc, and a plethora of extras on the second. Instead, there are two, single-disc anamorphic widescreen versions, one with DTS 5.1 and one without. By cramming all the material on to a single disc, those of you who buy the DTS version aren't going to get the HBO featurette The Making of Road to Perdition. The Dolby Digital only version does have the featurette, but obviously no DTS. I don't know who made this decision over at the studio, but I'd like to give them a good piece of my mind for it. This film absolutely deserves better treatment.

There is some good, in that both versions of the film include an excellent and thoughtful audio commentary track by Mendes. He goes into great detail about the ideas and themes in the film, and the many ways that he and Hall worked them into the on-screen visuals. When you watch this film, you know there must be a lot going on in terms of its construction. But the film is so good, that you don't think about any of that. You just go with it. Listening to this track, you begin to understand just how careful and meticulous the direction and cinematography are. The track deepened my appreciation of the film immeasurably. Also worth mentioning here is the inclusion of some eleven deleted scenes, all in anamorphic widescreen with optional director's commentary. There are some very good moments here that work well on their own, but you can see how having them in the final film would have worked against the story as a whole. I would, however, have appreciated a "play all" option. Having to dip back to the menu each time one of the scenes ends is tiresome.

Unfortunately, that's about the end of the good with this DVD. To be fair, the HBO featurette is actually quite decent. It's more than just the usual fluff, with substantial cast and crew interview footage. But forget that if you have the DTS version. There are also cast and filmmaker bios, production notes and a gallery of photographs (the images are nice... except you can't view them without the lame menu interface, which gets in the way). There's no trailers or TV spots for this film, but the studio thoughtfully (read: sarcasm) included a promo spot for the CD soundtrack. And these disc menus are the worst I've seen in years. Just absolutely lame and lacking in creativity. Yuck.

I should confess at this point that I was able to obtain a copy of the studio Academy screener DVD for this film, which is (believe this or not) a 2-disc set. The menus on it are infinitely better than the ones on the final retail release. There's also a few bonus items on it that I would have really appreciated on the final release, including a touching Conrad Hall retrospective. Whoever produced that disc should have been hired to do the final DVD, in my opinion.

Well... I don't know what to tell you. I absolutely love Road to Perdition and I can't recommend it more highly. It was easily my favorite film of 2002. But DreamWorks really screwed the pooch with this DVD. The good is quite good, but there's sadly not nearly enough of it. Unless you can find a good sale price, I'd have to suggest that most of you rent this disc before buying it. And to you folks at DreamWorks, know this... I am NOT going to let up on you until you guys get your act together and release the kind of 2-disc special edition this film deserves. Hire a GOOD producer and GET BUSY.

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

Road to Perdition (Widescreen)

Road to Perdition (Widescreen - DTS)

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