The Road

Movie Information

The Story: A man and his son attempt to survive in a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world beset with myriad dangers. The Lowdown: A stark, unrelentingly grim film that works due to strong performances and an underlying sense of humanity that occasionally peaks through.
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Drama
Director: John Hillcoat (The Proposition)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce
Rated: R

After numerous fits and starts and changing release dates, the silver-screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road has finally hit town. And the question now becomes, was it worth the wait? Unfortunately, the best answer I can give is a big, fat maybe. This is not a movie to be enjoyed—it’s simply too bleak for that. Instead, The Road is more a movie to admire in many ways and respect in more.

A friend of mine, after watching the film, remarked that he felt—despite being a fan of McCarthy’s novel and not particularly caring for the movie—that this adaptation of The Road is the best anyone could have hoped for. And I tend to agree with that assessment. If director John Hillcoat’s previous feature, the bleak and grimy The Proposition (2005) is any indication, then the man was tailor-made for this story and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone better suited.

Post-apocalyptic tales are nothing new, but they’re usually just a chance to indulge in some bloody action scenes peopled with guys sporting spiked leather get-ups. Despite occasional outbursts of violence, this is not the case with The Road. Instead, this is a no-frills story of an unnamed man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) traveling through the wastes of civilization’s remains. Little is spelled out, as all we’re told is that what appears to be Armageddon—in the form of a bright, unknown light—has taken place and society has disintegrated. Most animals have died off; the weather is constantly cold, overcast and rainy; and the bulk of humanity is made up of roving gangs of bandits, murderers and cannibals.

As a literary adaptation, the film stays true to the book (though Joe Penhall’s screenplay streamlines the narrative a bit), while never becoming too literal. Like the novel, Hillcoat’s film travels more as a sequence of small set pieces, as the man and his son scrape for survival, traveling towards the coast for no reason other than it’s a goal.

The plot, however, isn’t the point of the movie. Instead, it’s the relationship between a father and his boy and the will to survive in a world without the hope of ever living a normal life. To a lesser extent, it’s the need to be righteous and just in the face of such a desolate existence. Hillcoat realizes that this underlying humanity—embodied by the love of a father and son—is where the film’s center lies. Without it, the film simply invokes wrist-cutting nihilism.

The inherent gloominess of the material keeps The Road from greatness. It’s a story that just has to be humorless—there’s no way around it. But regardless of how difficult a film it is to like, it’s certainly not one that should be ignored. Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.


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4 thoughts on “The Road

  1. Ken Hanke

    Is this playing in Asheville?

    If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be being reviewed. The information about where movies are playing accompany the reviews in the print edition. I’m not sure why they don’t translate over into the online one, except that the information dates faster than the reviews’ shelf life online. In any case, The Road is at the Carmike and the Carolina.

  2. JJ Funky

    Hanke, hope you had an enjoyable Christmas; I did.

    For me, The Road was an honest piece of art. It was a film that translated emotions in a humbly simplistic manner. Being a father, I’m sure that I’m biased. However, that doesn’t change Hillcoat’s talent to craft a film of such realistic emotionalism.

    The film is like dying a slow, and guaranteed, death. It is not lugubrious; if so, the film would be easy to dismiss. I liken the film to a doctor, looking straight in your eyes while informing you that you’re going to die, willing to give a detailed explanation of the process, with an unforgiving, calm resolve. Yeah, that was probably a little lugubrious, but I tried.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Hanke, hope you had an enjoyable Christmas

    Apart from the snowed-in aspect of it, it was fine.

    I wish I could discuss The Road, but I haven’t caught it yet.

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