Paramount // 2002 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 29th, 2010
Pray for Michael Sullivan.
Ah, the gangster movie. Like the western, the zombie film and the disaster movie, it it's a high ranking genre that is often seemingly played out, only to rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. In 2002 director Sam Mendes and superstar Tom Hanks set out to bring Max Allan Collins' graphic novel (adapted by screenwriter David Self) to the big screen. Featuring screen legend Paul Newman in one of his final film roles, Road to Perdition travels a well worn path and makes its debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Dreamworks/Paramount.
Tom Hanks (Philadelphia) is Michael Sullivan, a Chicago-based family man who works for John Rooney (Paul Newman, Nobody's Fool), a local Irish heavyweight (he works for Al Capone) whose influence is felt throughout his neighborhood. When Michael's son (Tyler Hoechlin) inadvertently sees his father violently taking care of Rooney's dirty laundry -- Michael Sr. is Rooney's chief enforcer -- it sets off a firestorm involving Rooney's shifty son, Connor (future James Bond actor Daniel Craig) and a plot to rub both Michael and Michael Jr. off the map.
Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition offers classic style with an updated twist. While watching it I was reminded of the old Warner Brothers gangster films of the 1930s, but with more depth and insight into the human condition. It's a revenge picture to be sure, but in the hands of Sam Mendes (who also helmed the Oscar winner American Beauty and the recent Away We Go) it's something more -- Road to Perdition works as a meditation on the relationship between father and son, both the adult and youthful versions.
Make no mistake that Road to Perdition is at times a cold, unflinching film. The characters all seem to know their own destinies, especially Newman's John Rooney who notes, "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." It is a moment of chilling authenticity that fills the screen with emotion, destiny and power. There is quite a bit of gravitas devoted to the film's themes and character, culminating in a very shattering and unexpected final act.
Road to Perdition is a film of finely tuned performances with the fat trimmed, leaving only strong, focused characters in its wake. Tom Hanks proves why is one of the last of the great movie stars -- although you realize it's Tom Hanks throughout the film, he still has the ability to slip into the shoes of Michael Sullivan and disappear into the role. We're used to seeing Daniel Craig as the heroic 007, but here we see him as a conniving, sniveling beast as Rooney's bad seed son. Even better is Jude Law (Repo Men) as a creepy thug for hire who doubles as a photographer of the dead. Law is so good you could almost see him doubling for Gollum in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.
For me the most affecting performance was Paul Newman as John Rooney. In another actor's hands this role could have easily become a cold, cynical tyrant with little connection to audience sympathy. In Newman's skilled hands Rooney is a man we like despite his choices -- the years of decisions, death and heartbreak flicker heavily in his eyes. Newman always noted that at the end of his acting career he wanted to find the right vehicle for a swan song performance, and with Road to Perdition he found it -- aside of lending his voice to the Pixar/Disney film Cars (among other things Newman was a professional racer) and HBO's Empire Falls, Road to Perdition would be his final silver screen performance. His Best Supporting Oscar nomination -- as well as the film's other critical and box office accolades -- were well deserved.
Road to Perdition is presented in a very attractive looking 2.35:1 1080p Hi-Def transfer. This film's image quality is heads and shoulders above the original DVD release (very good itself) to include a stunningly gorgeous picture and the late Conrad Hall's award winning cinematography. The scenes involving the rain slicked streets of Chicago are doused with atmosphere that is enhanced by Paramount's work on this transfer. Overall fans of the film should find this to be a worthwhile video upgrade.
The audio portions include DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio in English, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in Spanish and French. This is a very good audio mix that features excellent use of surround speakers (the scenes in the rain are especially enveloping) both front and rear. It's a well done sound mix that includes composer Thomas Newman's haunting score. Also included are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
If memory serves, many of the extra features are ports from the original DVD release. Included on this disc is a commentary track by director Sam Mendes (engaging but best for fans of the film), 11 deleted scenes (with a visit by Al Capone), "The Making of Road To Perdition" featurette (a half hour feature that includes talking head interviews with the cast and crew) and "A Cinematic Life: The Art and Influence of Conrad Hall" that focuses on cinematographer Conrad Hall and his accomplishments in Hollywood. Rounding out the extra features is a browsing section titled "A Further Exploration of the World of 'Road to Perdition'" with various texts to be read and interviews to watch, plus a theatrical trailer in HD.
Road to Perdition is a worthy entry into the gangster film cannon. Hanks and Newman are at the top of their game and the final moments of the film are surprising and worth the wait. Paramount has done a fine job on this disc's audio and video components. Recommended.
Road to Perdition is a road worth traveling.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes