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Case Number 02760

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Road To Perdition

DreamWorks // 2002 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // March 31st, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Road To Perdition (Blu-Ray), published July 29th, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

The innocence of a son is surpassed only by a father's will to save it.

Opening Statement

Despite being filmed in Chicago and its historical frame of reference, I honestly had no desire to see this film. Now I'm glad I did. Road to Perdition is not your typical Hollywood gangster flick. This is a character driven portrait, painted with the rare brush and unrivaled artistic eye of director Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

Facts of the Case

Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a quiet family man with a nice home, a loving wife, and two young sons. To support them, he works for kindly old John Rooney (Paul Newman), a well-respected pillar of the community. As this blissful veil of ignorance is unceremoniously lifted from the prying eyes of young Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), we find that Grandpa John is actually Al Capone's regional crime boss and dad is his chief enforcer. Unfortunately this knowledge comes with a price. Having witnessed the unplanned demise of one of Mr. Rooney's disloyal associates, Michael Jr. has become an unacceptable liability—one which Rooney's son Connor (Daniel Craig) wants off the books.

The Evidence

There is something very different about a Sam Mendes film. In a world of easily disposed and quickly forgotten big budget movies, Mendes takes deliberate time and meticulous care to craft an exquisite feast for the eyes, ears, mind, and soul. Like a fine wine or a sumptuously impressive dessert, Road to Perdition is a film to be savored. Scene by scene, character interaction by character interaction, the film's striking imagery overlaid by Thomas Newman's numbingly beautiful score packs an emotional punch whose impact can be felt long after the house lights come up.

Screenwriter David Self (Thirteen Days) does a fine job of adapting the original graphic novel by the lyrical Max Allan Collins and equally impressive Richard Piers Rayner, but it's the lasting imprint of Mendes, editor Jill Bilcock, and the late cinematographer Conrad L. Hall's uniquely combined styles that make the film work. In someone else's hands, this story would have been a paper thin, predictable, and boring historical-based drama of jealousy, betrayal, and vengeance. With them, it is so much more. Nothing you see on screen is an accident. Every frame receives as much care and attention as the next. From the stark cold working world of Michael Sullivan and John Rooney, to the touching, sometimes humorous, and often-frightening vibrancy of a father and son's life on the run, the film is much like observing a painting in progress. You do not fully appreciate its impact until you step back and absorb the complete image in its entirety.

Much like the story, the performances only serve to enhance the image, rather than dominate it. Tom Hanks' portrayal of the driven Michael Sullivan is not something everyone will appreciate, as it is very different than what most people are used to seeing from him. However, his performance is rock solid and serves as the cornerstone upon which Mendes builds Perdition's imagery. Paul Newman's role is small but striking, a tortured soul trapped by the choices he has made in life. Jude Law never fails to impress, even with very limited screen time. It's the little physical things he brings to the role of the morbid closer Maguire that gives the character life and depth. The same holds true for the underappreciated Stanley Tucci, whose cameo-sized role as Capone lieutenant Frank Nitti encapsulates the film's message—the vicious cycle and unforgiving life of crime. In the end, it's newcomer Tyler Hoechlin who stands out amongst this impressive backdrop, in his performance of Michael Jr. serving as both the eyes and conscience for the audience.

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Road to Perdition is a dark and bleak film, emphasizing the colorless life of Middle America and Chicago's underworld in 1931. The image itself is exceptional, with little or no evidence of digital tampering. The Dolby 5.1 audio track snoozes its way through much of the film's dialogue, but awakens with a vengeance during its moments of unglorified violence. It also serves exceptionally well to enhance Thomas Newman's fervently charged score.

Once you have digested the film, DreamWorks offers up a small but much appreciated collection of bonus features. While surprisingly lacking the original theatrical trailer, you are able to indulge in…

Feature Commentary by director Same Mendes. Unlike some director commentaries, Sam is quite engaging finding a good balance between the substantive and technical aspects of filmmaking.

11 Deleted Scenes with commentary by director Sam Mendes. Totaling 23 minutes, the scenes all exhibit greater character development but do nothing to drive the plot forward. However, you will get to see Anthony LaPaglia's brief cameo performance as Al Capone, which never made the final cut of the film. A "play all" feature would have come in handy here, but alas is not included.

HBO's The Making of Road to Perdition: A 25 minute behind the scenes look into the film, its origins, cast, and crew. Includes a touching tribute to the recently departed legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall.

The disc is rounded out with the usual filler—cast and crew bios, production notes, a production photo gallery (unfortunately cursor driven), and a commercial for the film's soundtrack.

Closing Statement

Road to Perdition is a film of tremendous depth and emotion. It's not a Hollywood blockbuster that will appeal to the masses. However, if you are willing to take the risk and invest two hours of your time with the lives of these few characters, you will be rewarded with a story that will touch and move you.

The Verdict

This court honors the vision and effort of director Sam Mendes, the cast, and crew. Road to Perdition is an uncommon film which will only garner greater respect and appreciation over time. Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 95
Extras: 85
Acting: 90
Story: 80
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: DreamWorks
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Crime
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Feature Commentary by Director Sam Mendes
• 11 Deleted Scenes
• HBO's "The Making of Road to Perdition"
• Cast and Crew Bios
• Production Notes
• Production Photo Gallery
• Commercial Spot for the Film's Soundtrack


• IMDb
• Official Site

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