A beautifully crafted and well-acted period piece, "Road To Perdition" isn't a film without some concerns, but clearly, it shows that director Sam Mendes certainly has not run into a case of "sophmore slump" after his debut with "American Beauty". Based on the "graphic novel" by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner and adapted by David Self ("13 Days"), Mendes' film benefits from extraordinary cinematography by Conrad Hall, impressive production design (by Dennis Gassner), phenomenal costumes and other technical marvels. This is clearly a film where every sequence was set-up and composed with the utmost care.
The film takes place in 1931. Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is the hit man that boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) calls upon first, and the two almost have a father/son relationship. One night, Sullivan's son Michael (Tyler Hoechlin) sneaks in his father's car as he goes on another job, as the child is curious about his father's mysterious work.
Michael witnesses his father and others kill men when a job that was just supposed to be about "having a talk" goes wrong. Rooney's son Connor, jealous of the way that Rooney sees Sullivan as a "son" and angered by what his other son witnessed, comes after Sullivan's family. After Sullivan escapes a potential threat, he comes home to find that his son is the only one remaining.
The two flee to Chicago, seeking assistance from Capone associate Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci), but find none. While Sullivan and son hit the road to steal the mob's money to gain power, another hitman (Jude Law) has been sent after them. Eventually, he realizes that seeking revenge against Connor is something he can only do himself.
A great deal of discussion revolved around Hanks' decision to take on a darker character than he usually portrays. While I'm still unsure that Hanks was the right choice for the role, he clearly does a fine job defining the character's light and dark sides. The performance is a little more underplayed at times than I'd have liked, but it's still another fine effort from the actor. Newman's fairly brief performance is a little more powerful and certainly, it's a credit to Newman's masterful skills as an actor that he can clearly define this character so wonderfully in such a brief period. Law is enjoyable in a creepier character than he's ever found himself playing, although the character isn't developed much. Stanley Tucci is also fantastic in a small role.
The concerns that troubled me with "Perdition" in the theater don't seem as much of an issue the second time around. Although the film remains relentlessly gloomy (I can see what Mendes was going for, but having the film less subdued would have helped move the film forward and certainly would have increased the tension), the film's pace seemed to be less slow and the film less padded. I still feel a few minutes here and there (maybe 10-15 in all)could still have been deleted.
While I still wouldn't consider it along with the classics of the genre, I do find a great deal to appreciate with "Road to Perdition". The film is technically remarkable and the performances (especially Newman) are solid. Even though I'm still unsure Hanks was the exact right choice for Sullivan, he still makes it work. I still find aspects of it problematic, but "Perdition" is certainly a strong follow-up to "American Beauty".
VIDEO: "Road to Perdition" is presented by Dreamworks in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As I'd mentioned earlier, "Perdition" is clearly a work of art visually, with Conrad Hall's incredible cinematography offering rich shadows and light, while the film's fantastic production design is easy to appreciate, down to the finest details. While the film's cinematography shows a slight amount of softness, fine detail is still certainly evident.
Unfortunately, a few minor flaws were present. Slight edge enhancement is occasionally seen, but only in a couple of scenes. Only a couple of very minor compression artifacts were spotted, as well. The print used was in marvelous condition, with only a speck or two spotted.
The film's dark, rich color palette is rendered beautifully on this disc, with colors remaining accurate and never appearing muddy or smeared. Black level remains solid, while flesh tones appear accurate. Aside from some minimal edge enhancement and a few other concerns, Conrad Hall's stunning cinematography and the incredible efforts of the rest of the film's crew are done justice here.
SOUND: "Road To Perdition" is presented by Dreamworks in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is never a particularly aggressive soundtrack, but there are moments of skillful sound design (the film is nominated for an Oscar for both Sound & Sound Editing, although one would probably be correct to guess "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" will walk away with both those awards) that are appropriate and enjoyable. Thomas Newman's score, while used to underline a scene or two too many, is a pleasure to listen to and sounds marvelous here. Presented broadly across the front soundstage and richly reinforced by the rears, the score comes through with remarkable clarity and warmth. As for the surrounds, they also do a fine job adding ambience, some subtle and some more apparent. Although largely a subtle film, sound effects in the action scenes were certainly loud. Dialogue remained clear and crisp throughout.
A separate release with a DTS soundtrack is also available (Reportedly, the DTS disc also includes the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, although I don't have my copy of the DTS edition yet to confirm that myself.). While the DTS soundtrack may or may not provide improvements over the listening experience, I found this Dolby Digital presentation to be quite satisfactory. Note: It's great to see that Dreamworks has provided a "description for the visually impared" audio track here, as well.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Sam Mendes. Browsing through this track, I found it to be a fairly enjoyable and informative discussion. Mendes occasionally does fall into discussing the apparent themes of the story and sometimes, even just what's happening in the film at that point. More interesting are some of the other subjects the director touches upon: Mendes leads us through trying to visualize film, while also talking about some of the other production obstacles the film faced. The director's discussion of the actors is often both interesting and rather slow: while Mendes often provides some good insights about the leads and supporting cast, he occasionally does go on about how great everyone was. Yes, we know - you're working with Paul Newman, Hanks and other greats. Overall, a good commentary, but one with the occasional slow stretches. Note: the director's commentary is subtitled in English, French and Spanish.
Deleted Scenes: This section offers 11 deleted scenes, with optional commentary from director Sam Mendes. These scenes actually provide some very interesting and enjoyable moments (including a scene with Anthony Lapaglia as Al Capone that was deleted), but seem to have been dropped for pacing.
Also: Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot else: a 25-minute HBO "making of" (subtitled in French & Spanish) is certainly better than these kind of pieces usually are, but still provides a fair amount of promotional material and some patches of slow going. Other than that, we get a soundtrack promo, photo gallery, production notes and cast/crew bios. Surprisingly, no trailer.
Final Thoughts: While I still don't think it stands with the classics in the genre, "Road to Perdition" is clearly still a very fine effort, with powerful performances (Newman should get an Oscar) and fantastic technical credits. Dreamworks has provided a very fine DVD edition of the film, with fantastic picture quality, strong audio and interesting supplements. Recommended.