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HTF REVIEW: "Road To Perdition" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)


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#1 of 43 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted February 26 2003 - 12:38 AM

Posted Image

Road To Perdition






Studio: DreamWorks
Year: 2002
Rated: R
Film Length: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: English, French and Spanish



Pray for Michael Sullivan


It seems less than often these days that I sit
down to review a new DVD title and find myself
suddenly immersed in something very special. In
this case, I found Road To Perdition to be
one of those rare solidly good films that brings
together a superlative cast, good characters and
an interesting story.

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The film is based on a Max Allan Collins graphic
novel (an expanded comic book) that takes place in
the year 1931 -- the time of the Great Depression
and Prohibition. It is the era of Al Capone, hit men
and sawed-off shotguns. Tom Hanks plays Michael
Sullivan, a devoted father to two sons, Peter (Liam
Aiken) and Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), and a
loving husband to Anne (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Micheal has a deep dark secret that he keeps from
his sons; that he works as a hitman for the Irish
mob headed up by John Rooney (Paul Newman).

Mike's children are at the age where they want to
know where their father is disappearing to every
night of the week. From such curiosity, his eldest
son stows away under the back seat of their old
Model A. As fate would have it, the night he does
this is the night Mike and Connor (Daniel Craig) end
up dealing with a loud-mouthed brother of a dead man.

Posted ImagePosted Image

When young Micheal becomes witness to a terrible
act committed from Connor the kid's doom is sealed,
regardless of assurances otherwise. Being very
careful not to reveal too much of the shocking
storyline that follows, let me say that for the
rest of this film, Sullivan finds himself on the
run trying to save the life of his son and at the
same time looking for revenge on those who wronged
him while being pursued by an eccentric hit man,
played by Jude Law. On the way, Sullivan rediscover's
a love and respect for his son that he did not have
before. The bonding between father and son becomes
very moving and powerful.

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Tom Hanks is superb as a quiet and reserved often
brooding cold-blooded mob killer. For once, this
is not a film that rests solely upon his shoulders.
Paul Newman, still playing supportive roles,shows he
still has what it takes to rise to the occasion as
a classy old mob boss who's winding his career. As
always, the presence of Jude Law is always welcome,
and I was kind of tickled to seeing him here as an
odd-ball photographer/hit man whose characteristics
somewhat reminded me of Charlie Chaplin's Little
Tramp.

This film reteams American Beauty director
Sam Mendes and Director of Photography Conrad L.
Hall. While I was a bit disappointed that Mendes
used too much atmosphere to stand in the way of his
storytelling, I couldn't help but lose myself in
Hall's visuals filled with light and shadows. The
cinematography is just gorgeous here -- immersing
the viewer so completely in it's rain-soaked world.
I don't think I have ever seen rain roll off the
brim of a hat as beautifully as I have seen in this
film. It's very sad that Conrad Hall recently
passed away in Santa Monica, CA this past January.
This DVD release dedicates the film in his memory.


How is the transfer?


DreamWorks sent out review copies very late, thus
I had the opportunity to read a lot of early comments
about the overall transfer quality, some of which
were downright complaints about the way the film
looked.

Honestly, I had a few initial issues with the way
this DVD looked. Images seemed to be very soft,
and sometimes a little drab. Though images were
nicely detailed with excellent black levels, nothing
about the imagery seemed to leap off of the screen.

Thing is, I suddenly realized that this is the way
the film was supposed to look. The gray tones
and the many sequences shot in semi-darkness give the
film a somber, retro quality that perfectly resembles
the period of the Great American Depression. It can
only best be described as modern movie that faithfully
resembles a 1940’s black-and-white picture done in
color. When you realize what the director and
cinematographer were after, the transfer suddenly
took on an entirely new meaning. Colors look very
natural and very well saturated here.

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The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is not as aggressive
as I would have hoped. Still, the front channels do
a superb job of mixing dialogue with Thomas Newman's
unmemorable score that comes across with wonderful
dynamics. The rears only provide ambient support with
a few selected effect noises (mostly during shoot-out
scenes). This certainly wasn't one of those instances
where I found myself immersed in an enveloping surround
experience.


Special Features

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DreamWorks has released Road To Perdition in
no less than 3 separate editions. You have a Full-Frame
version that I recommend to no-one. Then there are
two separate Dolby Digital and DTS versions. The
DTS version includes a DD track, but lacks the HBO
featurette described below. Though I normally always
prefer DTS over DD, I really don't see how DTS could
expand upon a mix that isn't very aggressive in the
first place.

First up is a full-length commentary by director
Sam Mendes which is an enjoyable listening experience
thanks for the fact the director really gives us a
wealth of information on the overall production of this
film from some of the difficult edits he had to do,
to mixing the film's soundtrack, on down to working
with cinematographer Conrad L. Hall in getting the right
look for the picture. Mendes seemingly holds your
hand as he takes you through every scene giving you
the not only the finer points of what is happening,
but telling the story of the film through the eyes
of the characters themselves. You can really tell
that Mendes has a real passion for this film that
comes across strongly through this commentary.

Posted Image

There are eleven deleted scenes that are mostly
extensions of existing scenes. Many of these scenes
explore inner tensions between the characters and
their relationship to each other as well as the
community around them. There's even a cameo
appearance here by Anthony LaPaglia as Al Capone,
which is hard to look at after you have seen Robert
DeNiro's famous portrayal in The Untouchables.
The material presented here is in excellent condition
and is supplemented with optional commentary (with
subtitles) from director Sam Mendes.
(length: approx. 15 minutes)

Posted Image

HBO Making of Road To Perdition is the usual
run-of-the-mill fluff piece that only serves as a
promotion for the film but does manage to give us
a lot of background information in the process. It
takes us from Dean Zanuck's almost accidental
reading of the original graphic novel through
adapting the film for the screen. There are plenty
of interviews here with the entire cast and crew as
well as lots of behind-the-scenes footage. I
particularly enjoyed the fact that this featurette
touched upon Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, not
only giving us an overview of his 40-year career
in film, but offering us an interview (perhaps his
last) in the process. To change topic, I don't mean
to be cruel here, but doesn't Producer Richard D.
Zanuck look and sound exactly like Gary Oldman in
Hannibal?
(length: approx. 24 minutes)

Rounding out the extras are production notes
that tells how the film went from the hands of
Dean Zanuck to director Sam Mendes. There are also
separate cast and filmmaker filmographies as
well as an oddly presented photo gallery that
is ruined by the fact it is covered by overlays.

What is most noticeably missing here is the film's
original theatrical trailer which I remember to be
quite good. Why on earth DreamWorks decided to omit
this from the DVD release is just beyond me.


Final Thoughts

Posted Image

Road To Perdition is just a fine crafted,
gorgeous to look at old-time gangster tale with a
great story and superb cast. It's just short of
becoming a masterpiece.

I'm not entirely sure that DreamWorks took the best
"road" by releasing three separate editions of this
DVD other than the fact that they were probably
looking at saving consumers money over purchasing
a mega 2-disc set that had every version imaginable
on it.

I am placing this on my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED list
because it is a film that deserves your attention.


Release Date: NOW


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality

 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 43 OFFLINE   Tony-B

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Posted February 26 2003 - 12:56 AM

Yet another great review, Ron!
Quote:
Thing is, I suddenly realized that this is the way the film was supposed to look.
Thanks for not bashing the transfer becuase it is grainy. I am happy to see a reviewer realize that if the film was made to look a certain way, then it should look that way. I am going to rent Road to Perdition this weekend.
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#3 of 43 OFFLINE   Brajesh Upadhyay

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Posted February 26 2003 - 12:58 AM

Thanks for your review. I missed this one in theatres & I'm really looking forward to the DVD! I ordered the DTS edition.
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#4 of 43 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted February 26 2003 - 01:45 AM

The DTS mix is actually pretty impressive---when the El train goes through in one scene the whole house shook. I didn't check it against the DD version, but if that's not an aggressive mix then the DTS is cooked. Lots of surround action and deep bass; the gunfire panicked my poor dog, and I was playing it well below reference.

#5 of 43 OFFLINE   Dean DeMass

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Posted February 26 2003 - 02:15 AM

Quote:
Though I normally always prefer DTS over DD, I really don't see how DTS could expand upon a mix that isn't very aggressive in the first place.
I have to disagree with this comment. Just because a mix isn't aggressive, doesn't mean DTS can't expand on it. DTS was not made for just slam-bang action films (check out The Red Viloin for an example of this). I always find on my setup that DTS usually makes dialog sound more natural and clear. The music score also usually benefits from the increased bitrate of DTS and I find that sound flows more naturally across the soundstage.

I haven't compared tracks yet since I haven't even watched the DVD once yet, but the DTS track in the theater was incredible.

Other than that, great review (as always) Ron.

#6 of 43 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted February 26 2003 - 04:31 AM

Well that HBO special looks to be pretty cool (I'm a sucker for those things and I'd like to see the interview w/ Conrad Hall) so it looks like I'm going to purchase the DD version of this one.

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#7 of 43 OFFLINE   Tom J. Davis

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Posted February 26 2003 - 05:14 AM

Can't wait to see this one! Great review Ron.

#8 of 43 OFFLINE   Yumbo

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Posted February 26 2003 - 07:19 AM

rent the DD, buy the DTS!

#9 of 43 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted February 26 2003 - 07:30 AM

I thought that Paul Newman was superb in this movie, and far too little screentime imo

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#10 of 43 OFFLINE   Paul Case

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Posted February 26 2003 - 07:49 AM

The DTS track is definitely an improvement over the DD track, in my opinion. It's definitely worth missing out on the HBO fluff piece.

#11 of 43 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted February 26 2003 - 08:56 AM

Thomas Newman's
unmemorable score that comes across with wonderful
dynamics.
------------------------------------------------------------

Why do you think the score is unmemorable? I have only been able to watch about 15 minutes of the movie, but I thought the opening bars of the score sounded pretty good. I bought the disc sight unseen and wasn't too sure whether the movie was going to be any good, but after hearing the opening music I am convinced that I haven't completely wasted money.
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#12 of 43 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted February 26 2003 - 11:01 AM

Edwin,

I found the score more intrusive than enjoyable.

Certainly not as memorable than some of his better
efforts like Fried Green Tomatoes, American Beauty
and Shawshank Redemption.

 

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#13 of 43 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted February 26 2003 - 11:13 AM

I found the score more intrusive than enjoyable.

I guess to each his own because the soundtrack of this film is my favorite of 2002.




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#14 of 43 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted February 26 2003 - 11:20 AM

I found the score more intrusive than enjoyable.
------------------------------------------------------------

Hmmm. Thanks. I hope I can find some time tonight to watch the whole film. I might have a different view of the soundtrack once I hear the whole thing and not just a fifteen minute blurb.
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#15 of 43 OFFLINE   Declan

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Posted February 26 2003 - 12:34 PM

Trust me the last 15mins or so of the movie the score is beautiful and definitley one of my favourites (if not my favourite) score of 2002.

I got the DTS version and consider the sound on it to be (for lack of a better word) masterful.

Oh and if any of you live in the UK DVD Monthly have a free cover disc with this months issue that has the complete HBO documentary on it.Posted Image



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#16 of 43 OFFLINE   Talal

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Posted February 26 2003 - 12:48 PM

Yeah, this film's score, along with SIGNS, were my faves of 2002.
I just loved this film... perfect in every way as far as I'm concerned.

#17 of 43 OFFLINE   Ryan_TD

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Posted February 26 2003 - 04:36 PM

Well, I'd have to agree that the music(score) was actually pretty amazing. In fact, come to think of it I remember saying this to myself after seeing American Beauty as well. Thomas Newman's got my props....
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#18 of 43 OFFLINE   Scott Weinberg

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Posted February 26 2003 - 07:44 PM

I came across a rather interesting Easter Egg over at www.dvdtown.com :

You can find: Descriptive Video Service audio track

How to find it: This extra is not listed on the packaging, but it is accessible via the DVD's menus (on the Audio page) as well as via remote controls' Audio buttons. Basically, the DVS track has a narrator describing everything that happens in the movie for people who don't have very good use of their eyes.

Pretty neat.

Solid review Ron! I love this movie.

#19 of 43 OFFLINE   Stephen Orr

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Posted February 26 2003 - 11:23 PM

We did not see this one in theaters, but bought it this week anyway, based on the strong reviews and, well, we like Tom Hanks and Paul Newman!

#20 of 43 OFFLINE   Tommy G

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Posted February 27 2003 - 12:21 AM

Great review Ron. I'd like to say you twisted my arm once again to purchase this dvd but I was already convinced beforehand. I picked this up on Tuesday and am more excited than ever to screen it on Friday due to your very favorable review. Once again Posted Image to you Ron!
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