Road to Perdition Review
After the critical success of 1999's American Beauty, director Sam Mendes became something of a Hollywood sensation. Crowned with an Oscar, along with all the other awards his debut garnered, he must have received countless scripts from writers all wanting their words to be painted onto the screen with the stroke of someone who could be called an auteur already – one film in. Not bad, really.
And the script he chose above all else was entitled Road to Perdition: based on a graphic novel of the same name, and adapted by screenwriter David Self, it is set amidst the corruption and brutality of the '30s Depression in the US.
In one moment Michael Sullivan's son has had his young life turned upside down – he witnessed a brutal slaying in which the lives of this 12-year-old and his gangster father are shattered irrevocably. Now, targeted by the mob he's devoted his life to, Sullivan and his son find themselves with nowhere to turn and a sadistic killer in pursuit. It's here, in a fierce and primal struggle to stay alive and protect his boy, that this lifelong gangster will discover honour and redemption, and try and stop his son from travelling the 'road to perdition'.
From the opening shot of waves slowly lapping against a forlorn shore, with a figure standing before them, we are in for a visual treat. Together with acclaimed cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (who sadly died shortly after the release of the film – and the DVD is fittingly dedicated to his legacy), Sam Mendes manages to grasp the viewer and draw them into this world of vibrant detail, yet muted colour. Although his palette may be far more muted than American Beauty, he still manages to paint the world that the characters inhibit with such detail that it becomes something the viewer can immerse themselves in.
Soon, when both Sullivans are on the run, the bond between them slowly begins to emerge. For young Michael Sullivan, his relationship with his father previously consisted of courteous remarks and enforced rules; now, when man and son are threatened, their humanity is brought to the fore. This father-son element of the screenplay is perhaps the most compelling, and it is due to retribution that the film progresses – the event that kicks off Road to Perdition ironically brings them together, and is responsible for the chain reaction that follows.
Tom Hanks, as the first-billed character, again puts in a fantastic performance. The two-time Oscar-winner deserved another nomination for this role as he adds sentiment and integrity to a man whose profession should have none, and a quiet love for his family that slowly begins to show itself as events progress. This is probably his first real antagonistic role, and although it has a trace of the usual Hanks benevolence for reasons aforementioned, he still shines.
Legendary actor Paul Newman, who did incidentally receive an Oscar nomination, plays mob boss John Rooney with a twinkle in his eye but also darker intentions, which remain hidden to begin with. His chemistry with Hanks' Sullivan is of particular note.
Supporting them is talented Brit actor Jude Law, of Gattaca and The Talented Mr Ripley fame, along with newcomer Tyler Hoechlin – who possibly delivers the greatest performance of them all in the film. It may be his first proper role, but his acting is way beyond his young years, and I am betting we will hear a lot more from him in the future. Other notables, including Stanley Tucci and Daniel Craig, all help to increase the atmosphere and character study of the film.
With majestic visuals, Thomas Newman's wonderful score (another home run for him), some good action set-pieces, excellent all-round performances and a compelling and intriguing narrative, Road to Perdition amounts to a near-perfect viewing experience. Considering the amount of talent involved, it doesn’t come as a surprise.
A modest box-office reception, very good reviews and six Oscar nominations ensured that 20th Century Fox thought it warranted a DVD release that looked strong on paper, at least. Read on to find out if it leaves up to expectations…
The menu design is excellent – easy to navigate animated screens greet you upon the disc loading up. With slow, ambient music playing in the background, they are a good example of simple yet highly effective menus on DVD.
As said before, Road to Perdition is a visually sumptuous film, therefore the DVD needs to endorse such high quality with a crystal-clear transfer…and luckily, we get a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that can be deemed 'reference quality'. With absolutely no artefacts present, wonderful colour definition, and a crisp picture, this is something that you can not only marvel at but also use as an excuse for showing off the capabilities of your home cinema.
Originally announced with a DTS soundtrack, it was removed due to the lack of disc space – thankfully, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix included is definitely good enough to justify the absence of the former. The surrounds are used frequently, mainly for gunfire; and for the rest of the duration the front channels are crisp and clear when reproducing dialogue. The soundstage is enveloping, and the ambience levels are good too…meaning that all in all this is a very active and accomplished soundtrack.
The extras kick off with an audio commentary by director Sam Mendes, which is an interesting way to re-watch the film. Mendes is obviously very passionate about film, especially the ones he helms, and so his talk is full of vibrant anecdotes and insight.
Next up is a collection of deleted scenes, all with optional commentary from Mendes again. The selection of scenes is fairly diverse – some are mere extensions of ones that made the final cut, others are completely original. A highlight of the package is the scene in which Al Capone makes an appearance (played by Anthony LaPaglia). However, like with most, if not all of the deleted scenes, it is understandable why it was axed. Good for those who enjoyed the film, mind.
The majority of DVDs carry some kind of making-of featurette, and Road to Perdition is no exception. A 20-odd minute extra entitled HBO Special: The Making of Road to Perdition is what this package is graced with. And when I say graced, I mean it, as the majority of featurettes are mere backslapping exercises, but this one thankfully carries more weight. With a decent look behind-the-scenes and interviews with cast and crew, this is something else that will compliment the film well.
A rather unique extra in the way that it hasn’t really been used much before is the CD soundtrack trailer. Doing exactly what it says on the tin, it is a very brief showcase of the soundtrack/score that accompanies the film. Not that exciting, but at least it may give Thomas Newman some more, deserved, income.
There is a well-presented photo gallery that contains numerous stills from the production, navigated through using your remote control as ever. It is interesting, but not as accessible or enticing as the other extras.
Some cast & filmmaker biographies and production notes round off the package – static pages of text, although they do carry a lot of information on their allocated topics. Worth a brief look at if your eyes can stand it.
The film is a breathtaking look at the deep, dark realms of corruption and evil, told through the eyes of an innocent yet not-so-naïve pre-teen. Boasting excellent performances and sheer cinematic visuals, this is a testament to the power of filmmaking.
On the subject of cinematography, it is a fitting tribute that Hall's last film was this – which contained some of, if not all, his best work since his long-term career began. He previously won an Oscar for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Mendes' debut, American Beauty, but his work on Road to Perdition also won him the gong: for good reason.
Although this faded away after the tidal wave of award-hopefuls such as Gangs of New York, The Hours and Chicago (all three are inferior films), I think that now on the home cinema format Road to Perdition will prosper.
Currently residing as one of my favourite films of all time, and boosted by a good package, it all equates to a very simple summary of this review: buy it!