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Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Writer: Joe Penhall (adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel)
Director: John Hillcoat
Company: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Road, a John Hillcoat film adapted from the Pulitizer Prize winning book of the same name, had a hard time even getting released. Originally intended for 2008, it was pushed back a full year for more post-production work, then delayed a month again after that release date passed, and finally ended up with a smaller than anticipated theatrical run. In short, few people even got a chance to see the damn thing. After watching it, I get why; The Road is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, in fact it is very good, but this is not a movie that is possible to market to anything resembling a mainstream audience.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee play Man and Child (nameless, like in the book) who have survived a catastrophic event and are making their way South through a post apocalyptic world covered in ash. Along the way, they scrounge for whatever food they can find and avoid roving groups of cannibals and other unpleasant people.

When I first read McCarthy's The Road many moons ago, my first thought upon finishing it was "man, if they adapt this into a movie, it is going to be depressing as hell" and I was right; The Road may be the most depressing movie I have ever seen. There is no happiness in this world; everything is dead, people eat each other, the world has gone to hell and you can't help but wonder why anyone is even trying to survive. Visually, the movie gets this across real well: abandoned buildings, charred landscape, constant dreary clouds blocking out the sunlight, dust everywhere. It looks like a wasteland and it comes across very realistic (since they shot it in actual locations rather than sound stages, there's a real feel to it).

The journey between Man and Child is an interesting one; Man is doing this to find a better life for his son, who was born after the catastrophe and doesn't know any better. He is motivated by the well-being of his son, and although The Road has the post-apocalyptic trappings of a sci-fi or action flick, this is a character movie and you follow these two characters through the whole thing, with brief stop offs with gangs and people they encounter on the road. Viggo and Kodi have great chemistry together and are believable as father and son, and Viggo especially delivers a powerful and terrific performance to add to his impressive resume. Kodi is a newcomer (at least to me), but he's got great chops for a kid and could go places provided anyone actually sees this now. Cherlize Theron, who plays Viggo's wife in flashbacks, is only in it for minutes at a time, but her screen time is spent well and gives an interesting backstory to Man's life leading up to the journey. I haven't been the biggest Theron fan in the world, but she was really good in this. Robert Duvall also shows up as an elderly drifter who Viggo and Kodi eat dinner with one night and he's okay in his scenes, but Duvall didn't really bring anything to the role (they make a big deal of his improvised line in the special features, but honestly, it isn't that impressive).

The Road's bleakness makes for some powerful scenes, namely when the father and son find an underground bunker filled with food, beds, and even a working shower. This happens about two thirds of the way through and after seeing them having to sleep in cars and almost getting killed and eaten, you are as excited as they are when they finally find it. It's interesting how exciting a can of peaches can be for two people, but The Road does an excellent job building up to this moment and making it as effective as it was in the book. On the negative side, the two encounter a house and while rummaging through it, come across a basement full of captive people, some with their limbs taken off. This scene was the most disturbing of the movie, and showed just how desperate and scary their world had become. There are other small little scenes, but those two are the best in different ways.

The Road is essentially two hours of a father and son trying to survive the harsh realities of their world and outside of a few run-ins with others, nothing really happens. It's all dialogue, searching, and walking. For some people, that may be a turn off, and honestly, I even got a little bored here and there. It reads better than it is shown. It's largely uneventful and if you cannot connect with the two characters and their plight, then you will be praying for the movie to be over.

Despite a somewhat slow and tedious pace (which is how it's supposed to be in actuality, if again you've read the book), The Road is the most realistic and most depressing post-apocalyptic movie I have ever seen. It's filled with scary and bleak imagery and the journey between the two characters is engaging, captivating, and even at times, a bit scary. The Road is not for everyone and it's understandable why its eventful tumble into the box office occurred, but I think that it will find a life on DVD.

Final Verdict:
B

 


Comments

09/15/2010 19:09

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