24 January 2010

Movie Review: The Road


The Road
2009, 111mins, 15
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer (s): Joe Penhall, Cormac McCarthy
Cast includes: Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker
UK Release Date: 8th January 2010

“The Road” is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, the very man who penned “No Country for Old Men” into a novel before the Coen brothers took it on a rampage of awards success. Whilst it would be hard to say that “No Country for Old Men” was a warm or fuzzy movie it looks positively upbeat in comparison to the bleak post apocalyptic world of “The Road”, featuring an Earth devoid of natural beauty and with small groups of cannibalistic humans moving across the continents looking for their next meal. The film follows an unnamed man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they move across the barren and smoking world, looking for solace and safety near the Coast. However the journey is riddled with perils and food is constantly in short supply, only adding to the insurmountable concern that their destination may offer no more relief than the godforsaken wasteland that the planet has turned into.

The desperation that is etched all over the production is communicated brilliantly; everything about “The Road” is downbeat and wonderfully atmospheric. From a narrative perspective things feel hopeless due to the undefined nature of the global catastrophe, and in the way that Mortensen’s central character barely understands the need for the heinous quest he’s undertaken. Director Hillcoat has also done a fantastic job of making the environments seem uninhabitable and utterly devoid of the beauty and life that one might associate with promise and good fortune. The lead performance courtesy of Mortensen is also something of a marvel and it truly is a wonder that at this juncture so deep in Awards season the actor hasn’t been given more recognition for his sterling work. “The Road” is decidedly not a “fun” time at the movies but it is a superlatively executed and compelling story, laced with a dank yet stylish visual composition.

The greatest attribute the picture boasts is Mortensen’s awesome leading performance. Gruffly carved out but with a tentative softness the character is a difficult one to get right, yet Mortensen nails it with a rich and emotionally restrained tour de force, communicating his feeling with supreme skill and with the sort of low key emoting that allows the product to feel truthful. He handles his relationship with Smit-McPhee well and resonates the contrasting views of their situation with aplomb, despite the young actor’s bland performance. It’s a testament to Mortensen that he can make this vital dynamic work, even whilst Smit-McPhee is so obviously ordinary. Charlize Theron appears as Mortensen’s wife in flashbacks and shows great dramatic chops with limited screen time; certainly the shared scenes with Mortensen feel tragic in the way their relationship disintegrates in parallel with the world around them. It’s no spoiler to say that the Theron character is dead beyond the dreaming and reminiscing of Mortensen’s mind, but much like the actual epidemic that has consumed Earth the film keeps her specific fate ambiguous and kisses her goodbye in a touching and memorable fashion.

At 111 minutes the film is by no means short yet is holds the viewer in a trance from start to finish, inducing much tension, despair and many tearful moments along the way. With roving bands of flesh gobbling maniacs having inherited the Earth it’s not surprising that Hillcoat plugs for a few ferociously suspenseful instances of horror styled cinema, at times “The Road” feels like a really well designed and intelligently made chase movie. Yet to slap it with such a generic title would be to do every other remarkable facet of the feature a disservice, it is after all a dramatically ripe and phenomenally shot motion picture too. Joe Penhall is the writer credited with the adaptation and it’s an award worthy bit of work, holding the bleak spirit of McCarthy’s story close to its heart yet also fleshing out the characters and capturing a freeze frame of utter sadness that will move even the stoniest heart. One also has to point out that such a cheerless and hopeless scenario could be mugged for cheap tear jerking theatrics, but Penhall refuses, delivering an affecting yet deadly serious and organic screenplay. Those seeking a slate of post-apocalyptic melodramatics will have to look elsewhere, that’s not what “The Road” is pushing.

Hillcoat’s aesthetic sensibility is gorgeous and he creates a stunning apocalyptic vision in “The Road”. The film has a grey and washed out look that suits the mood perfectly and goes splendidly with the fantastic central story of a father protecting his son. I guess in many ways with a decent budget this would be the easiest part of the production to execute, yet in its own way a believable setting is vital, and Hillcoat has created just that through sublime cinematography and creative shot construction. Every frame in the picture looks like a work of art, carefully composed so as to create a total sense of lifelessness and despondency. The musical score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is also highly impressive, a low key affair that fits gracefully into proceedings rather than drowning or upstaging them.

I was enthralled and rendered spellbound by “The Road”, a film which translates a critically acclaimed piece of literature into a motion picture worthy of the same reputation and accolades. Mortensen and Hillcoat have together created an apocalyptic picture which borders on the realms of masterpiece and soars on the wings of unabated passion and undiluted skill. I had high expectations for “The Road” and yet somehow the movie surpassed them, a rare occurrence in modern Hollywood and one fully worth celebrating.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


Aiden R. said...

Great review, man. Completely agree with you, for such an amazing book, the adaptation was pretty damn impressive. Too bad this thing had the worst publicist on the planet because it seems like a lot of people missed out.

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