Road to Perdition
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: R for Violence and Language.
Film Length: 117 Minutes
Video: Color / 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, and Spanish
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Review Date: August 3, 2010
“A man of honor always pays his debts... and keeps his word.”
The Film: 4 out of 5
Road to Perdition, director Sam Mendes triumphant follow-up to his Oscar winning tale of the suburban dark side American Beauty, is beautiful filmmaking; a complex story of patriarchal prerogatives, priorities, and pain that weaves a rich and dense father-son exploration into the simpler plot of wrath, running, revenge, and redemption.
Based on Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel, and adapted into a screenplay by David Self, Road to Perdition is a somber affair. The story begins in the grips of a depression era winter, December 1931, and we are introduced to the modest Sullivan family; Michael Sullivan, his wife, and their two young boys, Peter and Michael Sullivan Jr. Young Michael loves and fears his father, a man he does not know and whom he feels does not know or care for him. One night, stowed away in the back of his father’s car as he heads out on a job with Connor Rooney, the son of the man Sullivan works for, young Michael witnesses a murder and sees first hand exactly what his father does for a living. In reprisal, and born of the jealousy that he has over Sullivan’s relationship with his father, John, Conner arranges for the execution of Michael and his family, and sets in motion events that unravel an established criminal underworld.
Where American Beauty explored the underside of suburbia’s façade of bliss, Sam Mendes explores the riddled complexity of the father-son relationships among the seedy criminal underworld of Depression era gangsters. Avoiding the wise cracking, tommy-gun toting familiarities of 1930s gangsters, Road to Perdition explores its story with the atmosphere and mood of its graphic novel source. The film is told in imagery far more than dialogue, and in the hands of skilled cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, the tale is explored masterfully, with lighting, color, and texture conspiring with the atmospheric score by Thomas Newman, and remarkably patient performances by the actors to emote in sublime ways. Hall’s Academy Award for his work in this film is deserved.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Tom Hanks playing Michael Sullivan with a refreshing everyman sensibility rather than a caricature of a nefarious enforcer trying to do good. Tyler Hoechlin, who plays Hanks’ son, does so with an understated strength, and with equal parts fear and adoration of the man with whom he finds himself on the lam. The core of this film is the absent relationship between these two – father and son – and how their relationship changes as they run following the murder of Mrs. Sullivan and young Peter. The rich and intricate dynamic between Sullivan senior and junior is juxtapositioned by the relationship between Sullivan Sr. with John Rooney (Paul Newman), who is a surrogate father to him, and the jealousy of Rooney’s only son, Connor (Daniel) Craig, another father-son dynamic that is tested and becomes a determinate factor in how matters play out.
Daniel Craig as the careless and cavalier Connor Rooney is solid, and in his final theatrical screen appearance, the great Paul Newman is excellent as John Rooney. Newman displays power and fatherly fallacy with strokes of simplicity – in a look or gesture – and reminds of why he is considered a legend. Jude Law as Maguire, the pale-faced and peculiar gun for hire, and Stanely Tucci as mobster boss Frank Nitti are supremely well chosen for their roles.
Viewing Road to Perdition again after many years, the supernal atmosphere is as striking as it was when the film was first released in July of 2002. In many ways the film plays like a supernatural tale, with ghostly figures and places moving in and out of the scenes with a brooding quality and an almost existential and metaphoric weight. The beginning of the third act in particular culminates this notion, playing out with a decidedly supernatural air; a haunting scene of eerie atmosphere, with Thomas Newman’s ethereal and moving score, followed by the drench of rainfall all that we hear heard. Director Mendes confirms this notion in his commentary.
The Video: 4 out of 5
Road to Perdition is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, in 1080p High Definition, and fully preserves its magnificent cinematography and moody film grain qualities. As I mentioned in the body of my review, this film is told more visually than through dialogue, and the mood of the film is captured in the striking use - or lack of - light, with shadows cast in intriguing ways, characters lit simply but effectively. The many rainy or misty scenes play out with diffuse light and with the strength of its ambience providing impressive senses of emotion and meaning. Conrad Hall’s success as Director of Photography in this picture is a delight to see. A dark film in many ways, this high definition release isn’t perfectly clean, and thank goodness. While there is the odd speck of dust or debris to be found, the picture appears to have been treated with great respect by those doing the transfer. It looks like film, and as a result, succeeds as a quality HD release of a superb film. Some scenes in particular benefit from the power of blu-ray, with incredible details – particularly in the rainy scene where Sullivan goes on the attack at the start of the third act. A magnificent scene that simply comes alive thanks to this high definition release.
The Sound: 4 out of 5
There are moments during this film where the power of the English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio is more than apparent, in the thundering gun shots, the echoing aftermath of the Tommy gun’s rage, or the eerie and haunting melancholy of Thomas Newman’s elegant and gloomy score. Directional effects, when needed, are crystal clear and meaningful in the surrounds, the sub-woofer is called upon relatively infrequently, but heavily when so, and the center channel is free of any issues when the, again infrequent but meaningful dialogue is spoken.
The Extras: 4 out of 5
This new Blu-Ray edition of Road to Perdition contains over an hour of new material, which are presented in High Definition.
Introduction by Director Sam Mendes (HD):A brief and newly recorded introduction as Mendes exalts the quality of this Blu-ray release.
Audio Commentary by Director Sam Mendes:Sam Mendes provides an interesting commentary track, at times explaining what we intuit from the sequences, but nevertheless, providing some valuable perspective on the filming, creative decisions, and the deliberate efforts he placed on sound and sound design in delivering and sustaining atmosphere.
The Library: A Further Exploration of the World of Road to Perdition (HD):Page through and read more about the creative process, real world setting, and the historical inspirations for the original graphic novel, and the adaptation with this interactive library feature.
A Cinematic Life: The Art and Influence of Conrad Hall (HD) (26:39):Presented in High Definition, this superb extra feature celebrates the art of Conrad Hall’ cinematography, having shot films such as In Cold Blood, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Searching for Bobby Fischer. Robert’s son recalls his father’s path into cinema, and many of his peers discuss his extraordinary ability to define within the frame light and dark, and the power of what’s in between.
The Making of Road to Perdition (25:04):A relatively stock making of featurette with some interesting interviews with cast and crew.
Deleted Scenes (22:16):Eleven deleted scenes, available with optional commentary by Sam Mendes, include extensions of existing scenes, and greater examinations of the sterility of the Sullivan household, and more direct exposition of the nature of Michael Sullivan’s job.
Theatrical Trailer (HD) (2:52)
Road to Perditionwas released in July 2002 among a slate of typical summer fare; an intelligent, moody film with impressive performances and the craft of solid filmmaking on display at almost every turn. The story and subject may not scream as having been sourced from a graphic novel, the film is made with reverence to that format, and the atmosphere Mendes pursues to tell this story is vital to its success. The road that the Sullivan’s travel, literally and figuratively, provide the grounding for fatherly and familial redemption. It’s a road well worth taking!
Overall 4 out of 5