Originally Reviewed – 2/8/2010
On my way out of the Claridge Theater in Montclair, the only place within 50 miles that’s even carrying this film by the way, a couple of college age guys were walking behind me, commenting about the movie. They both agreed that it’s no wonder the film isn’t being carried anywhere and “there were a few cool parts, but it was soooo sloooow.” While I can’t agree with their overall analysis, there is one thing that’s very evident in John Hillcoat’s The Road: The apocalypse is nigh and, yes, it’s going to take it’s sweet damn time.
The Road is the film adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy’s epic novel of the same name and chronicles a father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee respectively) who, after a an unknown apocalyptic event, is traveling south in a barren American wasteland a least a decade after. Before I continue, be aware that I may reference the other post apocalyptic film released recently, I Am Legend as they are similar in set up, but polar opposites in theme, scope and style. Let’s just say, if I Am Legend is a rock concert, The Road is a beautiful sonata.
One of the first things you notice when this film starts is how beautifully the disaster is shot, and with about half of the film being long shots of father and son walking through waste, it sure as heck better be. No worries in that department though, as this is how I always envisioned the end would be. Where I Am Legend is all lush vegetation and badly CGI’ed mutants, the world of The Road is sparse, chilling and unnerving. The world isn’t just ridding itself of humans, it’s rotting from the inside out. What makes the sense of dread even more palpable, is how you never quite know how the world got into this state. This takes the focus off of the horror of the devastation and puts the attention squarely on the relationship between Mortensen and young McPhee.
The father / son relationship is where the film truly shines and separates itself from the standard end of the world type fare. The disaster is merely a setting for what really is a character study of a father and son pressing on together in the most impossible of situations. Both McPhee and Mortensen turn in award worthy performances that pulse with true feeling and emotion. Towards the end, the film starts to tilt towards melodrama with over-emotional results, but by then I was so invested in the characters, I gave the film a pass. The flashback scenes between Mortensen and Charlize Theron, as Mortensen’s wife, also leave something to be desired as they seem thin and undeveloped.
In the end, though, The Road is a patient, thoughtful and very emotional film that showcases excellent performances by the male leads. The film isn’t all sap and sadness as there are moments of genuine fun as well as graphic scenes that show how depraved “the bad guys” have gotten in this world of non-plenty. The majority of the film, however, is a frightening, sad and unrelenting view of two people trying to survive in a world gone to waste. While the film does move at a glacial pace, the end of humanity as we know it shouldn’t have to be a massive explosion or a swarm of mutants. Sometimes it’s more evocative to just watch the world simply wither away.
Score – 80%