Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Road

The Road (2009)
Adventure, Drama, 111 minutes
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce

Some movies are hard to watch, and The Road belongs in that category. But I have chosen to review it because it deserves an audience.The director is John Hillcoat, who was responsible for The Proposition and Lawless. Like both of those movies, this one features music composed by Nick Cave. The bleak nature of the story is a perfect fit for Cave's music.

As you might expect, the movie didn't have much of an impact at the box office. I suppose that most people are reluctant to expose themselves to such a sad story?

When you strip it right down, the film is about the love a father has for his son. We never learn their names; any references made simply refer to The Man (Mortensen) and The Boy (Smit-McPhee). These two actors carry the movie, but we occasionally see people they encounter, and flashbacks of The Man's wife (Theron). Her role is small, but the scenes are effective, and help to frame the story.

There are many reasons to see this movie.

Viggo Mortensen delivers a superb performance that failed to receive the Oscar recognition it deserved. Perhaps the voters never saw the movie either?

We learn that The Man's wife couldn't face life in a world where everything was dying, so he is solely responsible for his son. The reason for the apocalypse is only hinted at, and mentions a sudden light. It leaves the skies permanently gray, and everything covered in a layer of ash. Trees, plants, and insects are dead or dying. The only life remaining comes in the form of a few humans, and many of them aren't too fussy about how they survive.

Perhaps this is what the world might eventually look like if Earth was struck by an asteroid?

The movie could be viewed as a metaphor for life itself. When we face terrible events in our own lives, most of us choose to weather the storm and survive to the best of our abilities. Imagine a life where there was nothing left to achieve. What would you do? The Man decides that he will take his son to the coast. Perhaps things will be better there, and maybe there will be something left alive.

What makes The Road an astounding story is the writing. Cormac McCarthy's book is strangely moving. It succeeds because of the intensity of the brief dialog between father and son. The son asks a lot of questions, and often wonders whether they are the good guys. The father explains as well as he can, and his son accepts all of his words without question.

The Road is nothing like McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, and isn't designed to be a piece of entertainment. It's a study on human character, and what drives us to exist at all. I admire post-apocalyptic stories when they are done well, and this is about as realistic as it gets. If you enjoy seeing how society breaks down when money is meaningless and food is scarce, you'll find the story interesting. If you are a parent, I would be surprised if you aren't moved at the love between father and son.

What would you do to protect the life of your child? How would you justify your actions? Could you kill and still be a good person?

I won't reveal how the story ends, or comment on whether it is uplifting or as sad as the rest of the movie. That's for you to discover. All I will see is that The Road is a significant achievement, and brings to life a book that seemed almost impossible to film. The cinematography is particularly convincing.

If you are a fan of The Grey, The Mist, Children of Men, or The Stand, there's a fair chance you'll find something interesting in The Road. Don't watch it if you are expecting an action movie.

The Blu-ray offers a strong presentation, but it won't dazzle you because the colors are deliberately muted to fit the story. You need to be in the right mood to watch The Road, but it's worth it when that mood strikes. You'll never take another meal for granted.

Overall score 4/5

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  1. Great review! I liked the movie a lot and I agree that Mortensen was amazing here, the Academy failed to recognize his work many times, I always felt he deserved at least a nomination for each of The Lord of the Rings movies.

    1. Thanks. Mortensen was easily my favorite character in LOTR. I hope he gets the recognition he deserves one day.

  2. Great review, Steve. I really loved this one. Very touching and the acting was just superb, especially the very talented Kodi Smit-McPhee.

    1. Thanks. I thought everything worked well. Maybe people will discover it eventually. There should be more projects like this one.