THE ROAD (Dir. John Hillcoat, 2009)
Your eyes may roll when once again reading the phrase “set in a post apocalyptic world” and that this film’s release was pushed back several times (it was originally set for Dec. ’08) may be discouraging, but hold on because this film is an intensely moving and towering piece of work.
While on the surface its bleak depiction of an ash covered world in ruins with death in every direction may be for many a grueling experience, in all the darkness a tiny light shining off a glimmer of hope can be seen.
That light is almost impossible to see at times for a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), only credited as “Man” and “Boy”, in rags making their way through the rubble with a grocery store shopping cart and a gun that only has 2 bullets in it. We’re never told how this all happened, we’re only given a few flashbacks from before the devastation that present the Man’s wife (Charlize Theron) sacrificing herself for her family as the world seemingly comes to an end.
Mortensen gives a career best performance as the Man, a desperate but ferociously protective father tuned into every threatening tick of movement on the terrain surrounding him and his shaking but just as driven son. Every element they encounter might as well have “from Hell” attached to it. They hide in the woods off the road from groups of hunters or hoards of cannibals, they look for food in battered houses, they share dwindling provisions with a grizzled old Robert Duvall (the only character in the film given a name – Ely), and they just keep on heading towards the ocean.
This sprawling epic is the third film adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel (the others being Billy Bob Thornton’s ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and the Coen Brothers’ acclaimed Oscar winning NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Save for the expansion of the role of the wife, THE ROAD is extremely faithful to its source, retaining its scary tense tone with almost all of the spare spoken dialogue verbatim from the book.
It’s maybe the anti-“feel good” movie of the year (or the decade) but its strengths as a tale of survival and its powerful emotional pull will linger for a long time. The Man tells his son that they’re “the good guys” and that they will live through this.
The Boy believes it and somehow in the face of the complete breakdown of society and all the anarchy of the wilderness we believe it too. THE ROAD may be a long tough one, but it does get to that glimmer and it really got to me.