Road to Perdition rolls onto UK Region-Free Blu-ray with a generally superb 1080p High Definition rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.35:1. Initially I was a little worried about the quality of this remastered effort – grain seemed a little heavy in some of the opening shots, and there are a few glitches – but you soon get used to what is clearly the intended style of the period piece, and really that the filmic quality works quite well for this particular production. Evoking Depression-era America fantastically, in a sea of bleak snowy backdrops and hazy smoke-filled rooms, you get solid detail throughout, from the longer landscape and cityscape shots, to the mahogany-dominated rich interiors. As Mendes himself states in his introduction to the movie, he never expected to be able to see every raindrop in the pivotal final act shootout, and that this is exactly what you get here – it is certainly a breathtaking highlight of the rendition. And whilst there are a couple of negligible instances of minor softness – Jude Law in his apartment taking instructions over the phone – even these totally pass under the radar amidst the generally quality presentation offered here. The colour scheme is utterly bleak – as you would expect – but the tones are still rendered richly and authentically, and the black levels are spot on, which is an absolute must for a movie that is so dominated by shadow and dark lighting – I think there’s only about one bright shot in the whole movie (when Hanks goes to Chicago and looks up at the buildings) but again this seems totally in-line with the style Mendes was going for, and also with the content of the original story. Overall it’s a faithful rendition of the Director’s intentions, and also a great example of a classically-styled modern production looking pretty fantastic on Blu-ray.
On the aural front things are just as good with an all-embracing DTS-HD Master Audio track that simply defines finesse. Dialogue is not the important factor of this production – by any means – but the words, whether softly spoken or yelled, are always presented clearly and coherently, dominating the frontal array whenever required. The effects are also far ranging, from car noises, to rumbling trains and – of course – plenty of shooting action. Sullivan’s trusty Tommy-gun makes one hell of an impression, and will likely leave you somewhat deafened if you’ve got the volume turned up too high. Directionality is excellent, even the telephone ringing in a different location in the scene makes an appropriately different sound. The score is the bit that really brings in the finesse, however, tinkering along in the background in a quirky way (sometimes, admittedly, a tiny bit too quirky) and offering up a variably backing to the piece which is perfectly pitched for every single sequence. The rain-based final act shootout is a highlight in this regard too, as well as the wave-smothered climax. It’s a fantastic use of suitably overpowering scoring. Rounding out the superb aural track, we get some nice bass, which comes across in the form of low end rumbling, rather than out-and-out thumping, and offers a pleasantly deep and broody side to the proceedings.
Sam Mendes offers up a personal introduction to his Blu-ray disc, noting how he took a personal interest in seeing this title receive the best possible visual and aural representation on the disc.
Commentary comes from the Director Sam Mendes, who offers up some nice musings on his production. He kick-starts with talk about how both The Deer Hunter and The Godfather inspired his opening sequence; discusses the use of symbolism across the movie (including water to symbolise the unstoppable force in nature that cannot be changed despite people’s actions); talks about how it was a longer and harder shoot than American Beauty, which was much more dialogue-driven, as well as the other problems with adapting the minimalist visually-orientated graphic novel; and reflects on the improvised flourishes added by both Newman and Hanks, including the great moment where Newman slams his hand on the board-room table, and genuinely shocks all of the supporting cast members present in that scene. It’s a good offering, but it appears to have been culled from two different sources – discernable by a slight volume change: the quieter one offers too much dry, technical, screen-specific analysis, whilst the louder effort gives us, arguably, the more interesting reflections and anecdotes. Fans should definitely check this out.
A Cinematic Life: The Art and Influence of Conrad Hall is a 27-minute tribute to the late Cinematographer, looking at his history in film, his astounding cinematography across the decades, his fantastic imagery (with some undeniably great examples) and his attempt for utter originality in his work. We get lots of behind the scenes stills of the man, as well as some archive footage of him in action, and plenty of comments from various colleague Directors of Photography, narrating over clips from most of his movies. It’s an interesting offering, particularly with its look at imagery and how Hall adopted the same approach to colour filming as he did during his black and white era.
The Making of Road to Perdition is a 25-minute HBO Featurette, which takes a fairly standard approach to detailing the project – from pre-production to post, complete with requisite back-patting and loose reflection in the form of snappy cast and crew soundbites. Despite its runtime, it is not very substantial, or deep, but it addresses all of the main criteria required from a standard making-of. Fans will want to give it a quick look.
We get 11 Deleted Scenes, all with optional Audio Commentary from the Director, who explains that some of the cuts were made for pacing, and others were in relation to how they wanted the characters to be shown, and the style they sought to maintain. The scenes themselves are largely worth trawling through, even if only a couple are noteworthy: like the single sequence with Capone (who is, himself, never shown in the movie proper), played well by Anthony LaPaglia. Despite it probably being a good move to leave him as an unseen menacing threat in the movie, it’s great to see someone do a nice Robert De Niro / Untouchables-style take on the enigmatic baseball-loving Italian gangster.
The Library: A Further Exploration of the World of ‘Road to Perdition’ is an interactive offering that allows you to explore, in more detail, several of the key aspects of the production. It is split into four options: Crime Scene Portraits, Real World Organised Crime, News Stories of the Day, andInspiration and Adaptation, which themselves offer several sub-options. Allowing you to relate the events in the movie not only back to the original graphic novel, but also to the real-life characters in history (Not just Nitti and Capone, but the real Irish Mobster and his enforcer that it was based on), this is an excellent background accompaniment to the main feature, and fans will positively revel at this revealing look behind the story.
There is also a Digital Copy of the movie included in the set on a second disc.
Road to Perdition is an engaging period gangster thriller that defies many of its genre tropes, and offers up a visually opulent, extremely stylish look at one man’s quest for revenge in 30s mob-ruled America. Unfortunately, despite definitely being worth a second shot – even if you did not particularly like it first time around – it still remains a flawed vision, hindered by a diluted representation of an anti-hero (no doubt made more palatable by Studios who feared that a ‘bad’ Tom Hanks would not go down very well) and a couple of unnecessary touches (how many potential modern classics still use montages?).
On Region Free UK Blu-ray we get excellent video and audio, as well as a comprehensive selection of Extras that fans will definitely want to explore, making it a solid counterpart to the – as far as I can tell – identical US offering. If you like the movie then this is a great edition to pick up, and if you were not impressed on a first watch then I recommend giving it another chance. It may not be the exceptional modern classic that it aspires to be, but it is nevertheless well worth a watch.
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