Hanks ready for a Fox trot

'Road' travels as Spielberg fulfills prior pic commitment

In a surprising move, DreamWorks Pictures has agreed to sell half its stake in “The Road to Perdition” to Twentieth Century Fox. The DreamWorks-originated gangster pic will be helmed by Sam Mendes and stars Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law.

Despite the seemingly fool-proof pairing of the Oscar-winning helmer and a powerhouse cast, deal to split the costs and profits on “Perdition” is understood to have evolved for two primary reasons: the budget brought about by the high-priced talent and an opportunity to release DreamWorks co-topper Stephen Spielberg from a film commitment to Fox.

A deal point included in Spielberg’s agreement to helm the Tom Cruise-starrer “Minority Report” gave Fox the option on a future Spielberg film. Allowing Fox to co-finance a potential hit like “Perdition” will extricate the DreamWorks co-topper from that commitment, insiders say.

Spielberg is already committed to a number of other high-profile pics in development, like “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Big Fish,” both set up at Sony Pictures.

Richard D. Zanuck is producing “Perdition” from a script by David Self (“Thirteen Days”), who based his adaptation on scribe Max Allan Collins and illustrator Richard Piers Rayner’s serialized DC Comics graphic novel of the same name.

“Perdition’s” backdrop is Depression-era Chicago. Pic follows story of Michael O’Sullivan — better known by the sobriquet the Angel of Death — a hitman out to avenge the murders of his wife and youngest son.