Film Review: The Road (2009)

The Road (2009)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Joe Penhall, from the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Rated: R
Rating: 3 (out of five)

The Road

The vision of the world after apocalypse is nothing new to cinema.  Nor was it to books when McCarthy’s original book was published.  A gray world that is desolate and foreboding, ashy and violent.  Gangs run amuck, taking hostages; few good men still exist, the hardships of their new life taking obvious tolls.  The difference with The Road is that it’s personal and up-close.

Through flashbacks we are told the history of our two protagonists.  The Man (Mortensen) immediately begins hoarding goods and becoming a guardian to the Woman (Charlize Theron), his wife, who is carrying their child.  The Boy (Smit-McPhee)  is born into the apocalypse and raised in the danger.  After the death of the Woman, the Man and the Boy begin working their way south towards the coast.

The days are cold, the nights even colder.  The world has been dead for so long that food and clean water are had to come by.  Plant and animal life has been obliterated, existing cities crumbled.  The only true infrastructure left in the world is the long, flat pavement of the interstate highways – the roads.

We see the world and the action through the eyes of the Man.  He view the Boy as the last hope for the world, the Boy is God.  He does not mean this literally; the Boy, good natured and decent and kind, has the power of God in the empty world.  The power to restore hope, even if it’s only restoring the Man’s hope and not humanity’s.

During their journey they encounter various people on the road.  From violent gangs to cannibals, they work to avoid these Bad Guys as well as they can and still survive.  The need for food leads them into dark houses and places they probably otherwise shouldn’t be going.  Threats are constant, and the single pistol the Man carries two bullets for a reason.  Part of the Boy’s education is the proper way to commit suicide.

There is something horribly disturbing in that image – the father pushing a pistol into his son’s mouth, then moving it to his own so he can demonstrate the proper aim.  You can’t aim too low or you’ll fail.  There is also something horribly familiar, and a terrible, terrible sense that this could be you.

The Road is that real, thanks largely to it’s source material.  I feel almost like I’m writing a review of the book rather than the movie, because the two are so close together.  The images are there and the characters are played to perfection (and I do mean perfection) by Mortensen and the supporting cast.  Smit-McPhee is amazing as the Boy, evoking for me exactly what McCarthy’s written representation of the Boy was.

Something is lacking in the movie, though, something the book has.  Roger Ebert’s review delves into McCarthy’s work and boils down the difference to the prose.  I would have to agree.  The book is like poetry.  Take away those words and you’re left with just imagery; without the words, you’re left with tying virtually unfathomable thoughts into a few seconds of screen real estate.

Penhall and Hillcoat have done, I think, as good a job as could be.  The movie stands on it’s own quite well.  It’s just missing the depth and introspection that the novel had.  If there was a way to accurately communicate those details in a film we’d probably never see another critic complain about unfaithful adaptations.

What The Road managed to do was take the essence of the book and present it to us successfully on the screen.  Much was lost in translation but what was presented was true and powerful and extremely well done.  No other movie about the apocalypse is quite as moving, truthful, or hard to watch as this.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbLgszfXTAY

Interesting review of the book: http://www.themodernword.com/reviews/mccarthy_road.html

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