[box cover]

Road to Perdition

Before Road to Perdition hit theaters, expectations were through the roof. With American Beauty director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall interpreting a moody, moving story about 1930s Irish Catholic mobsters — played by Academy Award winners Tom Hanks and Paul Newman — the film had Oscar written all over it before it was even released. Very few movies can live up to that sort of hype, and unfortunately Perdition proved no exception. Most critics dubbed it good, but not great, shrugged their shoulders, and moved on to the next piece of celluloid potential. They weren't too far off base. Road to Perdition — which follows grim mob hit man Mike Sullivan (Hanks) and his brooding son, Michael (newcomer Tyler Hoechlin) on a tragic quest of revenge and attempted redemption centered around Mike's father-figure boss, Rooney (Paul Newman) and his own son, Connor (David Craig) — is Shakespearean tragedy with Tommy guns and fedoras. It's also a beautifully filmed, lovingly crafted film that tends to get too caught up in how it looks and feels, letting the story suffer a bit in consequence. Which isn't all that surprising when you know that Perdition is an adaptation of Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers' graphic novel — the source medium most likely to encourage visual inspiration over innovation in dialogue and character. Not that filming a gorgeous movie isn't an achievement in itself, but it's even more impressive when a filmmaker can pair strong imagery with fully realized characters. Hanks' Mike Sullivan, while well-acted, begins and ends the film as a very enigmatic character — we get glimpses of the Mike behind the mustached, overcoated façade, but they're inconsistent (and, in the humorous sequence in which Mike teaches Michael to drive and then uses him as a getaway driver, oddly dissonant). As a consequence, it's very easy to sympathize with Mike — a man whose violent profession costs him his family and everything else he holds dear — simply because he's Tom Hanks, not because his actions have earned that sympathy. Young Hoechlin is also somewhat of a mystery, but he holds his own opposite Hanks, while Newman (nominated for an Oscar for the role) is superb as Rooney. The veteran actor gives the mob patriarch a knowing smile and a world-weary stare — he's a steely rascal of a man who's done and seen too much to have any hope of reaching heaven. Also worth mentioning is Jude Law as death-obsessed assassin Maguire (hired by Al Capone's lieutenants to track down Mike after the latter begins his revenge scheme); the actor throws himself into the part teeth, hair, and all, and he is convincingly creepy. His plucked pate has a particularly lustrous shine on DreamWorks' Road to Perdition DVD. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is almost as lovely as Hall's camerawork; the stark contrasts and carefully composed shots are stunning. The English DD 5.1 audio makes every gunshot (and there are plenty of them) pop; other audio options include French DD 5.1 and English 2.0 Surround tracks, as well as English captions and French and Spanish subtitles. The subtitles are also available on Mendes' commentary track, which is a thoughtful, intelligent exploration of what went into making the film. Other extras include 11 deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a 25-minute HBO "making-of" featurette, relatively detailed cast-and-crew biographies, production notes, a photo gallery, and an ad for the CD soundtrack. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

(Note: DreamWorks has released two additional Road to Perdition DVD editions with widescreen/DTS audio and pan-and-scan/Dolby Digital audio.)

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