Road to Perdition – Blu-ray Review

Even though it’s the job of an actor to embody the persona of the character they’re playing, there are very few who can take on any role, in any genre, and make it convincing. In Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks proves once again that he is one of the few.

The story involves one father/son relationship crumbling, while another one grows in its place. It’s dramatic, humorous, heartbreaking, and action-packed, and yet it’s all done with such precision, that neither the film nor the pacing ever falters. As Tom Hanks says in one of the special features on the disc, this is a film that feels as though it should be incredibly predictable, and yet it’s anything but.

Based off of the graphic novel, Road to Perdition tells the story of Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), and his son, Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), during their time on the road together in the winter of 1931. This isn’t an ordinary father and son road trip, as the two were forced into this way of life after a course of tragic events leaves them with no one to depend on but one another. As a boy, without a father of his own, Michael was taken under the wing of local mafia boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) and grew up doing favors for the old man that consisted of anything from turning up the heat on those who owed money, to burying them six-feet under.

As the years went by, Sullivan became Rooney’s right hand man, much to the chagrin of Rooney’s actual son, Connor (future 007 Daniel Craig), who becomes envious of their relationship, and plots a way to take Sullivan out once and for all. After the plan backfires, John has no choice but to break his ties to Sullivan in order to save his vindictive son. With nowhere to go, Sullivan heads to the open road with his son, and tries to figure out a way in which he can get revenge on those who wronged him, while protecting his son at the same time.

The film could be viewed as a film about revenge, and those who called it that would be correct, although shortsighted. The film just has so much more to offer than straight up revenge. It truly is a story about the bonding of a father and son who may never have truly known one another had tragedy and betrayal not come into their lives.

This is best portrayed in one scene where, after Sullivan is shot, the two see their roles reverse, with the son caring for the father. During this time, Sullivan really takes the time to learn just who his son is, and works on finding out what he’s been missing all the years he’d been preoccupied with work. When Sullivan Jr. brings up his younger brother Peter, and says his father acted different around him, and he wondered if he liked him more, his father says, “You were more like me, and I didn’t want you to be.” The scene uses just a few words, and the two actors act just awkward enough, like two strangers opening up for the first time, that it seems heartfelt and true. “I didn’t want to be different.” It’s one of many perfect scenes throughout that really shows the layers this film contains.

The acting is fantastic, and Hanks really shows why he’s at the top of the list for many casting directors. His work as Mike Sullivan is spot-on, and it’s always telling of the talent at hand when you can say you see the character onscreen instead of just Tom Hanks with a moustache. Young Hoechlin also does a great job in his part. He and Hanks have great chemistry, and their bonding moments really tie this film together as something more than it could have been.

Someone not mentioned yet, but can’t be forgotten is the character of Harlen Maguire, played by Jude Law. Maguire is an assassin sent out to kill Sullivan and his son after they go on the run, and Law really steals the show during his scenes throughout. Funny enough, as found out in one of the special features, Law’s character doesn’t even exist in the graphic novel. This seems odd as he’s such a predominant villain in the film, and it’s hard to picture the story without him. Craig is also fantastic, and plays the part of Connor, a complete weasel, and a character the polar opposite of his groundbreaking Bond role, magnificently. Knowing how completely bad-ass he can be, it’s great to see him play a supporting role where he’s anything but intimidating. Finally, Newman, in his mafia boss role, is masterful to watch during his scenes. He has chemistry with everyone, and you just see why he’s a legend with every move he makes.

Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), the film comes together spectacularly. Each shot, each scene, each moment has the perfect direction and the film as a whole just has an aura of someone who put so much into it so that the audience could get so much out of it. The film also looks absolutely stunning, which we can thank the late cinematographer Conrad Hall for. His work is beautiful, and can be summed up in a perfectly shot, emotionally riveting confrontation between Hanks and Newman in the rain-soaked city streets. It’s filled with tension, bloodshed, and the perfect addition of slow-motion, accompanied by a powerful musical score that fills the scene with the emotion it deserves.

Road to Perdition comes in at just under two hours, but the pacing is perfect, and it’s one of those films where you don’t even realize the time has gone by because you’re so engrossed in what’s coming next. I remember seeing it back when it first was released in 2002, and I believe I was even more captivated this time around, which alone says wonders about this beautiful film that is driven by revenge, yet is so much more.

Everything sounds fantastic, as the score is atmospheric, and flat out engaging. There may be times when it catches the viewer by surprise by just how loud it can get, but if you have the ability to listen to it in surround sound, you truly will get the full experience this disc has to offer. The video transfer, on the other hand, looks beautiful, as the colours, and the shades of gray all come out pristine, really adding to the experience throughout.

An introduction by Director Sam Mendes, which can be watched before the film, or after in the extras section, is a quick minute and a half intro who speaks about how much he loves the transfer of the film to Blu-ray, and how much it added to every scene. He hopes we enjoy it, and depending on when you watch this, you either have, or you will.

Mendes also contributes with a director’s commentary.

The Making of Road to Perdition This runs at a solid 25 minutes, and we hear from the actors, and creators of the film. They talk about adapting the film from the graphic novel, as well as the time period, the actors, their roles, everything you’d want to have covered in a short period that doesn’t drag on. If you want an in-depth look at the film and why things happened, the director’s commentary will help satisfy that craving. This piece is fast-paced, and even if you aren’t a big fan of these types of features, this one works quite well, and is enjoyable to sit through.

Deleted Scenes – There are eleven deleted scenes to be found here, one even adding Al Capone to the film. While the part is played well, and the actor even looks like Capone, it really throws off the pacing, and even the mood of the film at the point in which it would have taken place, and it’s obvious why it, and many of these other scenes were cut.

The Library: A Further Exploration of the world of Road to Perdition This was actually an incredibly intriguing featurette that was disguised as something I thought would be quite boring. It features different categories, such as “Press” “Adaptation” and “Crime” and so forth, where you click on a picture, and it takes you to more pictures, as well as a small section that talks about how it relates to the era, and the film. When you then click on the pictures, they take you to another screen with more information, but interestingly enough, a small portion of the screen turns into a mini-video, where people explain the facts about whatever category you chose, and how they worked things into the film, or just how it was back in the day. It’s incredibly informative, and runs at a solid 41 minutes if you watch every video it has to offer. Definitely an interesting addition I must say.

A Cinematic Life: The Art & Influence of Conrad Hall – This featurette runs at 26 minutes, and talks about cinematographer Conrad Hall. It’s like a half an hour edition of Biography, and another solid edition to the films plentiful supply of extras.

Everything is topped off by a theatrical trailer for the film.

Road to Perdition is a great film that should definitely be checked out if you missed it back when it was originally released, and even if you saw it then, it’s one that should be revisited without question. This Blu-ray release is a perfect showcase of the film, with a rich assortment of informative, interesting extras; making it one of the better all-around releases I’ve seen in a while. It’s a film that tells a story that will stand the test of time: a story of love, loss, forgiveness, betrayal, revenge and the relationship between father and son. It’s an underrated classic that will never, truly get old.

DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Home Entertainment present Road to Perdition. Directed by: Sam Mendes. Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig. Running time: 117 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray Disc: Aug 3, 2010.

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