The Road

The Road has to be the most depressing of the last year's releases, and we saw some heavy stuff for real - the world destroyed by a killer solar flare, massive earthquakes, whatnot. But for me, much worse than the actual disaster is what comes afterward. I mean, once the world is destroyed that is that. The end of suffering, everything. But if you happened to survive only to live amidst ruins. That beats any number of doomsday scenarios.

Review by SAndman
April 8, 2010

The Road Movie

Director: John Hillcoat

novel: Cormac McCarthy screenplay: Joe Penhall

Viggo Mortensen as The Man
Charlize Theron as The Woman
Kodi Smit-McPhee as The Boy
Guy Pearce as Veteran
Molly Parker as Motherly Woman
Robert Duvall as Old Man

Released: 2009

The Man: I told the boy when you dream about bad things happening, it means you're still fighting and you're still alive. It's when you start to dream about good things that you should start to worry.

And that is exactly where The Road begins. It deals with what comes after a cataclysm - we never learn what it really was only that it was big. The earth, sky, and water have been contaminated, crops and animals destroyed, cities razed to the ground, and population reduced to ragged tramps or gun-toting nuts eking out a living in the post-apocalyptic wilderness where anything and anybody can turn on you. Against such backdrop we follow the fates of the main characters, the Man and the Boy.

What little we know about the Man is that he has some knowledge of medicine and love of classical music, which he shared with his artistic wife. In flashbacks we get glimpses of his past life. Together with him we witness the night when the cataclysm came down and what followed in its aftermath - the hardships of a life condemned to isolation and the fear of fellow humans. The Man helped his wife give birth to their son and he tried, and failed, to persuade her to hang in there. Eventually she gave in to despair and one night walked out on him. But before she did that she bade him keep the Boy warm and head south.

The rest is the two of them struggling, struggling, and struggling, as they follow the road on the old map to the ocean. They evade roving bands of cannibals - there's no food any more - and run into other survivors, who they meet with feelings of anxiety and distrust, all the while soldiering on throughout the desolate landscape of charred trees, abandoned farms and ramshackle towns.

The Man has kept a gun with bullets and he teaches his son to use it to take his own life if the worst comes to worst. He will even be tempted to do it himself on a few occasions, for instance, when they found themselves trapped in a mansion whose cellar is full of people farmed as livestock for local survivors turned cannibals. As ordeals grow more trying and gruesome by the day, the Man is forced to shed remnants of his humanity until the moment comes when the Boy asks him whether they are still the good guys.

There is something existentialist about the Man's effort to get himself and his son to the coast. He doesn't know what they are going to find there, nor exactly why that destination should make more sense than another. Finally they reach the coast and sit on the beach dotted with shipwrecks and the Boy asks the Man what is there on the other side. And the Man answers, "Maybe there's a father and his little boy and they're sitting on the beach too." There is nothing heroic or self-conscious about this, it just rings true and heartfelt.

Viggo Mortensen did a great job making his character come alive. By turns, gentle, plucky, conflicted and noble, his intense take transposed the role of the proverbial everyman to new heights, he pretty much turned his character into a force of nature. But you would expect that from such a pro, wouldn't you? Young Kodi Smit-McPhee followed suit delivering a surprisingly mature performance. Charlize Theron was convincing in her scenes. Low-keyed and fragile, she never tried to flaunt her stuff, she stuck to her role, and she deserves praise for that.

The cinematography is excellent and some of the visuals in The Road are bound to etch on your memory, though they will probably not make you a happier human being. The soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis complements perfectly those harrowing post-apocalyptic visuals; it adds an emotional depth to the otherwise stark plot. There is this beautifully evocative theme which keeps returning amidst the hum of wind and rumble of storm - a poignant reminder of human transience. It captures superbly the complex mood of The Road.

Gut-wrenching and gritty as it is, The Road is not just another post-apocalyptic flick. The thoughtful script, deft directing and Mortensen's class-act performance sets this movie apart from most of 2009 releases. I have a feeling this fella will be watched long after 99 percent of the last year's movies are forgotten and buried.

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