A father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee ) walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind and water. It is cold enough to crack stones, and, when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the warmer south, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing: just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless cannibalistic bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a rusting shopping cart of scavenged food, some memories - and each other.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you haven't read Cormac McCarthy's novel, The Road, I urge you to do so - preferably before you see the film - because it will add depth and texture to your film experience. Not that the film lacks either of these qualities; indeed, by introducing the father's occasional voice over, director John Hillcoat aims to capture some of the 'voice' of the writing. Of course, the crossing from the prose medium to the screen medium is a translation that loses certain elements while gaining others, and in a work that is so reliant on atmosphere and mood, the challenge is enormous. But Hillcoat and team have succeeded, certainly for me.
In this grey, cold, lifeless and loveless post apocalyptic world (where the apocalypse is of uncertain origin, but somehow ecological), a father and his young son try to find friendlier skies and warmer climes as they head south in a deadly world where civilisation has disappeared and humans are back to their primitive basics of survival at all costs. The book paints such a well defined bleak picture McCormack must share the credit for production design. The deserted, colourless rural landscape, the dull yet threatening skies, the debris of abandoned human habitation and the ever present threat of survivors desperate for food - anything edible, humans included - is strikingly conceived.
In many ways, this is where the book and the film are most accurately and effectively fused, although I don't mean to take away from the outstanding performances of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee-Smit - whose face, especially his mouth, is somewhat reminiscent of his screen mother, Charlize Theron, who has a small role as a memory - a presence that doesn't exist so strongly in the book.
The dread of a black future (not how we got there) is the setting that McCormack uses to explore humanity; stripped to the basics, we men and women of the world are selfish and destructive, naturally garrulous, violent and unforgiving. But the essence of mankind lives on in the boy; he is the one who craves mercy and decency. It's not so much innocence as humanity - that most highly evolved element that sets us apart from all other life forms. It may seem trifling but it is the most optimistic note in the film.
Considering it's not so much what happens but how it happens, Hillcoat has made a dynamic film of great impact, making the right choices from his tray of cinematic tools. Every element, including the Nick Cave & Warren Ellis score, is perfectly tuned to his intent, delivering a work of lasting value.
Review by Louise Keller:
An apocalyptic road movie in which each stop brings a new threat for survival, John Hillcoat's film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel is essentially a story of a man's love for his son. 'Are we still the good guys?' the 14 year old boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) asks his father (Viggo Mortensen), as the pair do whatever it takes to escape the ever-present threat of cannibalism in the fast-dying world of 2929. 'Always will be,' is the non-hesitant reply. This is a film of many layers and one that champions goodness and a warm heart.
The reality depicted is a grim one, filled with bleakness - from the cold grey weather to the intolerable lack of humanity that the world now represents. (Global warming obviously is not here to stay.) There's gore, too - there were gasps of horror not only at some of the bloodied scenes portrayed but at the implication of their context. Some may find it depressing; others will wonder at the visceral music score and soundscape by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Chris Kennedy's potent production design and Hillcoat's intense and attention-grabbing direction. The multi-credited and talented Javier Aguirresarobe should take a bow for the cinematography that sears its bleakness into our souls. One thing is sure, Mortensen and Smit-McPhee deliver exemplary performances and ones that keep us constantly in the moment.
It is almost a relief that the film oscillates from the present to a much brighter past, when there was sunshine, greenery and Charlize Theron's Woman, the emotional nucleus for Mortensen's character. The mood is perhaps the film's greatest character. It lassoes us into a sombre melancholy and a desperate bid for survival. I love the line delivered by Robert Duvall, who plays the elderly Eli, who believes he died and saw an angel when he sees the boy who knows there are some things you do not forget no matter what. 'It's foolish to ask for luxuries at times like these,' he replies when the father asks him if he ever wished he were dead. The dignity and grace these few words are indicative of the thrust of the film's message and resonate as we face our own apocalyptic road.
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ROAD, THE (MA)
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Robert Duvall, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Garrett Dillahunt, Molly Parker, Michael K. Williams, Brenna Roth, Jeremy Ambler,
PRODUCER: Steve Schwartz, Paula May Schwartz
DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat
SCRIPT: Joe Penhall (novel by Cormac McCarthy)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Javier Aguirresarobe
EDITOR: Jon Gregory
MUSIC: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Kennedy
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 28, 2010