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Featured Blu-ray Review: Road to Perdition

August 1st, 2010

Road to Perdition - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

When Road to Perdition came out in 2002, Tom Hanks was easily the biggest movie star around, not to mention one of the most critically acclaimed. From the time Big was released in 1988 until this film hit theaters, Hanks had eleven $100 million hits on his resume and had earned five Oscar nominations, winning twice. His presence in this film meant it had a lot of expectations put upon it, but it wasn't the only thing inflating expectations. It was directed by Sam Mendes, who had recently won an Oscar for American Beauty, plus, there was talk that this was going to be Paul Newman's final film. Is there any way this film could live up to expectations?

The Movie

While the Blu-ray cover features Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Jude Law, the film actually focuses on Tyler Hoechlin, who plays Michael Sullivan Jr., the elder of Michael Sullivan Sr.'s (Tom Hanks) two sons.

Michael Sullivan Sr. works for John Rooney (Paul Newman), who had been like a surrogate father to Michael, Sr., and a surrogate grandfather to Michael, Jr. and his younger brother, Peter. However, neither of the two sons know what their father does for Mr. Rooney; Michael knows it's dangerous, because he has seen his father carry a gun, but that's it. One day, spurred on by curiosity, he decides to hide in his father's car as he drives to "work" with Connor Rooney, only to find out they are mobsters and that far from the hero he imagined him to be, Michael, Sr. is a killer.

This revelation changes the son's vision of his father, but also changes the dynamic of the relationship between Michael, Sr. and John Rooney.

And... that's all I'm going to say. In fact, I'm kind of worried I'm giving too much away as it is.

This is a movie that deserves to be seen and with as little spoiled as possible.

The writing, directing, and of course acting in this movie are fantastic. Paul Newman earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but I'm surprised Tom Hanks and Sam Mendes didn't also earn nominations. This is arguably one of the best mafia movies of all time, partially because it focuses so much on the father and son relationships in the movie. It's a road trip movie, a revenge movie, a coming of age movie, all combined into one, and all aspects work.

This is also an amazing film to look at; in fact, its lone Oscar win was won by Conrad L. Hall for Best Cinematography, although sadly he died before the ceremony. This was his tenth Oscar nomination and his third win in a career that spanned four decades.

Some critics have complained that the movie sets too serious a tone, or that some of the characters are too cold to be emotionally approachable. I can see where those complaints are coming from, but I don't agree with them. There are a few glimpses of humor here and there, while as the movie progresses, we see more humanity in the characters. (Some of them, anyway.) But the tone of the film fits the story.

Overall, this is an easy recommendation. The only question is if the Blu-ray is worth the upgrade.

The Extras

There are quite a few extras on the Blu-ray, most of which have been ported over from the DVD release, including an audio commentary track with Sam Mendes. Solo tracks are usually not as strong as tracks with two or three people, as being able to bounce ideas off of each other tends to help keep the energy level high. However, here the director gives plenty of information were almost no dead spots. And it is very in-depth information, concentrating a lot on artistic decisions made and why. There are nearly a dozen deleted / extended scenes with optional audio commentary track. Finally, there's a 25-minute-long making-of featurette that is the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie.

New to the Blu-ray is an introduction to the movie by Sam Mendes, who talks about his reluctance to release the movie on Blu-ray, as he thought the DVD looked perfectly fine. We will get to the Tech Specs shortly to see if he was right. There is also a 26-minute featurette on Conrad L. Hall, who I mentioned above. Considering this film's only Oscar win was for cinematography, and it was Conrad L. Hall's last film, this is a very fitting addition to the extras. The Library: A Further Exploration of the World of Road to Perdition is an interactive look at the film, the world it is set it, the cinematic inspirations, etc. There's a lot to explore here.

The deleted scenes on the Blu-ray are in Standard Definition, and they do look perfectly fine. However, the Blu-ray looks nearly flawless. There is, at times, excessive grain; however, this was an artistic choice by the filmmakers and not a flaw in the transfer. The colors are muted, but again, this was done for artistic reasons. The audio is just as strong, if not more so. Dialogue is clear, and the film has some of the best surround-sound effects, especially the rain.

The price is good for this type of release. It is a catalogue title, but it is not shovelware.

The Verdict

High expectations likely hurt Road to Perdition with critics and with moviegoers; it was still a hit with both, but not quite as large a hit as some were predicting at the time. It is absolutely worth owning and the Blu-ray offers enough new and a brilliant technical presentation that is it worth paying extra for.

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