Pound-for-pound, The Road is the most depressing movie I have seen in years, but it is also moving and strangely uplifting.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy (my review of the book here) and directed by Australian John Hillcoat (The Proposition), The Road stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a nameless father and son duo making their away across a post-apocalyptic America.
At first glance, The Road is a survival movie. The world in which they live is not a pretty one. Nor a safe one. I don’t want to spoil it for those who don’t know much about it, but let’s just say McCarthy (and Hillcoat) don’t have much faith in humanity. Even though I had read the book, seeing that brutal, horrific world on the screen still made my skin crawl. There are a few scenes in particular that I will remember for a very long time.
However, at its heart, The Road is about a father’s unconditional love for his son. Then tenderness with which the man cares for his boy brings a sense of hope into a hopeless world. Despite how futile their efforts seem, you want them to make it. You want them to live.
Visually, the film is amazing. Hillcoat’s interpretation of the world McCarthy created on the page is grey, lifeless and frightening. It’s not so much a visual style (like say Harry Potter 6) as it is a depiction of what our eyes would see if we were there in person.
As for the performances, Viggo Mortensen is sensational. I can’t think of another actor better suited for the role than him. On the other hand, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son felt more replaceable. He was more than adequate, but I wouldn’t call it an outstanding performance.
The book and the film have a number of differences – more flashbacks, less repetition and increased action – but the essence is identical. Most of these changes are welcome and necessary for the adaptation to work, so I don’t have a problem with it. Well, maybe except the extended cameos of Charlize Theron, some of which felt like were there just to give her more screen time.
The Road is terrific (in both senses of the word), but be warned – it is a slow paced film. There are some short bursts of excitement, and though it is never boring, there are lengthy periods of patient observation.
On the whole, The Road is a worthy adaptation of an award-winning novel. It might not have quite the same emotional punch as the book, but when all said and done, The Road may very well be the most important movie of they year.
4 out of 5 stars!
[PS: I can’t believe that ‘The Road’ is receiving a limited release in Australia. For a film based on a best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning novel and directed by an Australian with two Australians in key roles (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Guy Pearce), this is mind boggling to me.]
[PPS: Contrary to popular belief (okay, just mine), this film has no relation to The Lord of the Rings…except maybe Viggo Mortensen is actually Aragorn and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the son he had with Arwen…and the world is the way it is because Sauron finally got his hands on The Ring (ie Frodo’s ring, not the Japanese horror film).]