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Sam Mendes took the world by storm back in late 1999 with his feature film debut – American Beauty. That Oscar winning film garnered critical acclaim from around the world with its portrayal of Lester Burnham, a middle aged man going through the stages of a mid-life crisis. But as the buzz for American Beauty faded, critics sat awaiting details on his next theatrical venture. Would Mendes be a one hit wonder? Read on…

Road to Perdition: DTS Edition
Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a father to two young sons, and a husband to a loyal and supportive wife. On the outset they seem like a pretty normal American family but Michael Sullivan has a secret. Set in 1930’s depression-era Chicago, Sullivan finds himself employed by John Rooney (Paul Newman) who took Michael on as a parentless youngster many years ago. Michael would apparently do anything for Mr Rooney; even kill. Rooney also has a son from a previous marriage – Connor, played wonderfully by the ever-menacing Daniel Craig. Together Michael and Connor set out on missions to ‘extract’ information, ‘collect’ money and indulge in various other gangster related shenanigans. But things are about to change…

On one rain soaked evening, Sullivan’s eldest child Michael Sullivan Jr hitches an unwelcome lift in his fathers car. Undetected, he witnesses what his father and partner do for a living first hand – and in this case three men are murdered in cold blood. His father discovers Michael hiding outside the abandoned warehouse where the act was committed, and the alarm bells immediately start ringing for the troubled father. He realises that his son has witnessed something that could be very damaging to Rooney if word gets out, and naturally…it does. Father and son are forced to flee their troubled past and together they set out to Perdition, a small town where they plan to seek refuge. Hot on their heels is Maguire, a rather eccentric hit man (and photographer) hired by Rooney to track the two down. What follows is a film about honour, vengeance and perhaps above all else the love between a father and a son.

Road to Perdition has to be one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen – period. Although the subject material isn’t overwhelmingly original, Mendes and crew have managed to craft something truly special. The film is based on a graphic novel, and it shows. Road to Perdition is a very visual film and doesn’t rely on the same heavy dialogue associated with Mendes’ first film. This lack of dialogue could trouble a lot of people if it wasn’t for the magnitude of the imageries importance. So much is conveyed visually here that it could almost be just as effective as a silent movie. Much of this visual splendour is without a doubt the responsibility of Conrad L. Hall who sadly passed away earlier this year. Many shots reminded me of his work on American Beauty, for example Tom Hanks’ character in one scene almost disappears into the fog. This is obviously a tribute to the scene where Chris Cooper’s homophobic Colonel Fitts character leaves after confronting Lester Burnham in his garage. A nice touch.

Road to Perdition: DTS Edition
Performances from all the major players are great. I have to admit to being more than slightly sceptical about Hanks playing a ruthless assassin but he actually manages to pull it off convincingly which is a testament to his ability as an actor. Paul Newman also delivers a solid performance and it’s just a shame that I haven’t been exposed to more of his work. I wasn’t even around when he worked on some of his greats like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I’ll have to catch up with them some day soon. The other surprisingly good performance was from Jude Law. I remember seeing the trailer for the film six or seven months back and being almost drawn to laughter by Law’s rather unimpressive American accent. Having now watched the film though it’s actually not that bad and I really like what he did with the character. He managed to create an interesting, slightly bizarre take on the character despite the limited material he had to work with. He could so easily have been a by the books assassin but he’s actually a joy to watch onscreen especially during the many exchanges with Sullivan.

Overall then, Road to Perdition is a great new take on the mobster formula. As Mendes himself says in the commentary on the disc, he wanted the “family” to be more like businessmen rather than taking the obvious stereotypical approach that so many gangster movies choose. Oh, and if Conrad Hall isn’t given the nod for best Cinematography in this years Oscars I’m going to be livid! If you buy one movie this year, make sure it’s Road to Perdition!  

Road to Perdition: DTS Edition
Road to Perdition receives a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. One of the first things that strikes you about the film, is the cinematography. Perdition has to be one of the most beautifully filmed movies that I’ve ever seen, almost distractingly so! Conrad L Hall really did himself proud here and he will be sorely missed. Now, onto the picture quality. As with many films of the past few years Road to Perdition makes use of filters that age the print somewhat. I’m pretty open to these methods providing they help set the tone of the film, and in this case I agree that the filters are necessary. They help to add an edge of class to an already classy production. It does make a reviewer’s job very difficult though when judging picture quality! I could argue that the print is washed out and slightly grainy. However, I’m not going to argue that point as it is clearly the intention of the director for the film to look this way. Thumbs up!

Road to Perdition is available to buy as either a Dolby Digital or dts edition. The former includes a twenty-five minute HBO featurette not present on the dts edition. However, the dts version not only includes a dts track but also both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. You’ll have to balance up yourself whether or not you want the dts track or the featurette. Personally, I would recommend that you go for the Dolby Digital version, as the dts track isn’t a great deal better. Certain scenes come across a little crisper, and tighter with the dts track but nothing to write home about. All three tracks feature a fair bit of bass which is often a result of Thomas Newman’s quite involving and ever present score. The surrounds aren’t used incredibly frequently but do kick in when the action starts to heat up. Overall, a reasonably well produced audio offering but by no means reference quality stuff.

Dreamworks have put together a more than satisfactory release for Road to Perdition though it may disappoint the more hardcore fans of the film. Kicking off the supplemental material is an audio commentary with director Sam Mendes. If you’ve been lucky enough to listen to his commentary on American Beauty you’ll already know that he comes across as a very articulate, modest and genuinely nice bloke. Thankfully not a lot has changed and he still puts on a hell of a commentary. The commentary track here is bursting with information. Straight off the bat we hear from Mendes of the difficulty in cutting the opening scenes of the movie. The film for a time was going to open with the assembling of a Tommy gun but this was later dropped in favour of the more subtle opening titles that are present in the theatrical cut. Mendes also touches on working with the late Conrad L. Hall and how many of the props and sets were bought on the Internet! Very interesting stuff.

Road to Perdition: DTS Edition
The next feature is something many fans criticised Mendes for not including on American Beauty – deleted scenes. At the time the director thought that including such scenes would ‘cheapen’ the impact of the theatrical cut. Thankfully, he appears to have now changed his mind as a selection of eleven deleted scenes are included which run to around fifteen minutes in total. Most of these scenes admittedly are little more than extensions of previous scenes but there are a few gems amongst them. One scene for example is entitled ‘Mr. Capone’ and is a fun little sequence featuring a cameo by Anthony LaPaglia as the legendary Al Capone. Ultimately though it isn’t really necessary and I would agree with Mendes that it had to go. Each of these deleted scenes carries an optional commentary by Mendes by the way.

Completing the package are some pretty thorough production notes that chart how the film came about. Each page features a different background image and there are many, many pages included. Cast biographies are also present for Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci, Daniel Craig, Tyler Hoechlin and Liam Aitkin. Several filmmaker’s biographies are also included. Rounding off the package is a photo gallery. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, I’ve never really been a fan of these but at least this one is done reasonably well. Each page features a large photo with the option to advance to the next image when you would like to. There’s nothing worse than a photo gallery that decides when to change the photo for you! The photos themselves are very good, with some particularly stunning ones showing off the cinematography some more!  

Road to Perdition: DTS Edition
Road to Perdition is a beautifully crafted tale with superb performances from Hanks and Newman in the lead roles. For once it’s nice to see Hanks taking a few chances with the roles he takes on. I was beginning to get a little fed up with the ‘all round nice guy’ image! The supporting cast are also solid and if you can get around Jude Law’s slightly dodgy accent you’ll really appreciate the mildly wacky character that he’s managed to create. As a disc, Road to Perdition is a little more mixed. Although the video is a perfect replica of the theatrical presentation, the audio is slightly disappointing. For starters, the dts track offers very little improvement over the 5.1 offering, with only minor differences in clarity apparent. It may therefore be better to opt for the Dolby Digital release of the film as it also carries the extra HBO featurette that I mentioned earlier. All in all though, Road to Perdition is one of my favourite films of the year so far and I can’t wait to see what Mendes will take on next!