Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael K. Williams, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron
Directed by John Hillcoat
Expectations: Very high.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for way too long. My mind-hype was allowed to fester and there’s no way that the film could have lived up to that kind of expectation. It was originally slated to release late 2008 but got pushed back a few times, ultimately releasing over a year later in November 2009 to a limited number of screens. Whenever a film is pushed back to this degree, I always get apprehensive about its worth, but in this case it seems that the delay was more for post work and to (unsuccessfully) optimize Oscar potential, so I still expected it to be great.
The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, but as I haven’t read it yet I can’t offer any sort of adaptation notes. The story follows the journey of a man and his boy in a world devastated by an unnamed catastrophe. There isn’t a defined plot other than the standard apocalypse fare of “Let’s get to the coast, I hear it’s OK there.” This works for the film as the point of it all is to examine the father/son relationship during an incredibly tough time where survival and primal instincts are the only constants. The father (Viggo Mortensen) struggles to keep himself and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) alive and away from the other survivors. As the apocalyptic events wiped out most life on Earth, including plants and animals, most people have resorted to cannibalism of those weaker than them. This is established at the opening of the film as Mortensen is forced to kill a man and he later finds his head and entrails under an overturned truck.
This is very much an actor’s film. Charlize Theron plays Mortensen’s wife and while she isn’t in it much, her scenes are some of the best in the film. Robert Duvall has an excellent, almost unrecognizable cameo as the old man they meet on the road. The focus here is almost entirely on the pair of Mortensen and Smit-McPhee though, and the acting from them both is excellent throughout the entire film. They are completely believable as father and son and they both handle their character arcs skillfully. The film raises some interesting questions as Mortensen slowly loses touch with reality as the day-to-day struggles become too much for him to bear. I had hoped for the film to delve deeper into this struggle but it was kept fairly subtle and more up to the viewer’s interpretation. Generally I enjoy that sort of thing, but I thought just a bit more hand-holding would have made the film better and easier to digest.
Once again, the film’s music score disappointed me. It was too sweeping and overly sentimental and I feel that the harsh environment would have had more impact if it were left to speak for itself with its haunting silence. Ambient sound should have been an integral part of the film, but except for a few key moments it seemed to take a back seat to the sappy music. The music itself isn’t bad, just personally I feel it was the wrong scoring choice for this type of film.
I wasn’t overly impressed with it, but overall I did like The Road. Possibly if I read the book and re-watched it I’d like it more. The filmmakers seemed to have taken on a bit of Cormac McCarthy’s minimalist style, but unlike the Coen Bros’s adaptation of No Country for Old Men, it works to the film’s disadvantage here. It’s well shot for the most part, but the slow, muted nature of the film will leave lots asking what the point of it all was. I’m okay with that myself, but I feel that the film could have been better. I’ll have to read the book and see how the story plays out on the page.