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ROAD TO PERDITION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci, Daniel Craig, Tyler Hoechlin
Director: Sam Mendes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: February 25, 2003

“This is the life we chose, the life we lead, and there is only one guarantee; none of us will see heaven.”

Film ****

Road to Perdition is a triumph of many sorts, but the most noteworthy of them is the sole notion that a great actor is playing a part that he has never played before. When one thinks of Tom Hanks, you tend to think of the all-American every guy, who's as charming as they come. Even in the more hard-bitten portrayals, such as Saving Private Ryan, Hanks still displays a level of humanity that makes you root for him in the end. His tour de force in Road to Perdition is a masterful one at that, as Hanks slips into the role of a Depression era mob enforcer and creates one of his most memorable performances to date. Add to this, a rare screen appearance from legendary actor Paul Newman, and director Sam Mendes in his first directorial piece since his Oscar winning American Beauty, and a stunning production value, and you've got the makings of a one of a kind gem.

Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a quiet soul who has been given the joy of a life, which has included with it a house and a family. All of this he has been given through his dedicated work for John Rooney (Paul Newman), the boss of the small town who took Michael in when he was young and has looked at the man like a son. Rooney's actual son, Connor (Daniel Craig), is a constant hothead who looks on to his days in the future when he will run the family business, but still is jealous of the attention his father displays on Michael.

What matters most to Michael is that his two sons do not discover what he does for a living, which is killing. One night, Michael and Connor are sent on a job for Mr. Rooney. Sullivan's oldest son, Michael, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), through an act of curiosity, secretly tags along by hiding under the back seat of his father's car. All soon goes to hell as Connor flips into a murderous rampage, causing Michael to take out several men with his tommy gun. All of this happens right in front of his son's eyes. Sullivan cannot believe what his son has witnessed.

With everyone in the organization scratching their heads to the tune of Sullivan's son witnessing the act, Connor decides to take matters into his own hands. He plans to put a hit out on Michael, and wipe out his son in the process. Although things don't go down as intended for Connor, an even worse act has been done; Sullivan's wife and youngest son have both been murdered. Realizing that a hit has been put out on his life, and a truce cannot be called upon, Sullivan has no other choice but to hit the road with his son.

What follows is perhaps one of the more harrowing accounts of a father and son relationship that has been brought to the screen in sometime. The father soon teaches the son how to handle the car, as the two prepare to ignite a series of bank robberies to take down only money belonging to Al Capone, following a sour meeting with Capone's assistant, Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci), in hopes of Sullivan switching organizations. Nitti, who soon has a meeting with Rooney, suggests on hiring an expert hit man named Maguire (a barely recognizable Jude Law) to take out Sullivan.

As mentioned earlier, the production value of Road to Perdition is of pure stunning quality. Not since Brian De Palma's The Untouchables has the gangland scene of the 1930's been brought to life so remarkably, resulting in engulfing the viewer in the atmosphere. One aspect of the film that should be noted is the stunning cinematography by the late, great Conrad L. Hall, who sadly passed away in January. Hall, who also served as cinematographer on American Beauty, displays work here that is of visual poetry, and plays a pivotal role in bringing the era to life. A nice, lengthy, pull out shot of Chicago is a breathtaking moment. I can certainly say that if the Oscar for cinematography does not go to this or the equally deserving Gangs of New York, it will be a sad night.

The acting in Road to Perdition is just as masterful as one would expect, and beyond. I really think that Tom Hanks, who is often thought to be the most over-nominated actor at the Oscars, really should've been nominated for his performance here since it is, above all else, a remarkable revelation. Here you have perhaps the most loved and respected actor in the world, who is all about playing the nice role, trying his hand at the opposite. In playing this role, Hanks has made a smart move by showing his ever diverse range.

Paul Newman has been nominated for supporting actor, and rightfully so. The great Mr. Newman, whose appearance in any movie is an event as far as I'm concerned, has the more difficult role. Rooney, despite his bitterness for Connor's actions, vows never to give up his son's life to anyone, even if it means ordering the hit on the man he displayed much more affection to. The final confrontation between Sullivan and Rooney is a scene that will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Road to Perdition is a glorious achievement of many sorts. It's both a striking gangster movie, loaded with uncompromising violence, and it is also a touching piece on the importance of the bond between fathers and sons. It's very rare that a director's follow-up to a brilliant first movie is just as good, but Sam Mendes has done just that, as this is truly of the great films of 2002.

Video ****

A stunning presentation from Dreamworks, as one would expect, that takes a beautiful looking movie and enhances this quality to the fullest. It took a while for this movie to finally arrive to DVD, but that might be because the studio wanted to release the movie in the highest form of quality, and they have done just that. The picture detail is remarkable in each of the various settings, especially that of the scenes in Chicago. Even the darker scenes, which there are a good deal of, turn up in striking quality.

Audio ***

For the most part, Road to Perdition is actually a quiet piece, but the 5.1 mix is quite a stunning presentation. The scenes of gunplay do show off the most power, but other high marks include the powerful, moody score by Thomas Newman, and several scenes that do offer a level of dynamic range. A very well constructed sound mix.  (EDITOR'S NOTE:  A DTS audio version of this title is also available.)

Features ***

Included is an audio commentary with Sam Mendes, an HBO making of documentary, and several deleted scenes. Also featured are production notes and a photo gallery.  (EDITOR'S NOTE:  The DTS version does NOT include the HBO featurette.)

Summary:

Road to Perdition adds up to just about everything a moviegoer could ask for, with endless talent both in front of and behind the camera. A stunning period piece that is truly one of the best of 2002.