07 January 2010

Review: "The Road"

The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, has arrived in theatres without much fanfare. I can only speculate, but could it have something to do with the Coen brothers Oscar-winning adaptation of McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men? Most likely it is due to the limited recognition of director John Hillcoat. The film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival where Robert Duvall received a considerable amount of attention, including allusions to his out-of-left-field Oscar nomination for 1997's The Apostle. The film stars Viggo Mortensen in one of his most powerful performances. The film is completely dependent on his talent as an actor and the audience's ability to connect and sympathize with his story. The film is a post-apocalyptic journey of a father (Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), unfolding in long, drawn out scenes, often with little dialogue. The film also employs the use of narration and flashbacks to reinforce the central themes of love and loss.

In what can only be described as the near future, Viggo Mortensen stars as an unnamed man who is traveling by foot to reach the southern coast of the United States. It is many years after the apocalypse and his wife (Charlize Theron) has died. Through flashbacks we see that their once strong relationship began to crumble when she became pregnant post-apocalypse. The man, wanting to protect his child, journeys south with the belief that his son will not survive the brutal cold of the north. In this new world ammunition is scarce, and the man only has two bullets for his pistol: one for him, one for his son. There is a significant lack of food, and many survivors have turned to cannibalism. On this journey the man and the boy encounter a group of the bad guys (cannibals), an old man struggling to survive (a barely recognizable Robert Duvall), and a thief (Michael K. Williams, The Wire's Omar Little!). While you may believe that the film's final scene is predictable, it is a beautiful film about a father's love for his son and I often found myself overcome with emotion.

Some may find The Road to be as cold and cruel as the brutal conditions, but I found the film to be a beautiful story of survival and love between a father and son. The New York Times, in a review of McCarthy's novel, called it "entirely unsentimental." Watching the film, and dissecting it afterward, I believe that the novel would be very difficult to read. John Hillcoat and Joe Penhall, as director and screenwriter, found the silent moments and subtleties and put them on film. Viggo Mortensen's performance is spellbinding, and while the Man is not as powerful a character as Nikolai Luzkhin in Eastern Promises, and it deserves to be acknowledged. Entertainment Weekly ranked Cormac McCarthy's novel number one in a list of the one hundred best books from 1983-2008, and while The Road will not get that kind of distinction as a film, it is extremely provoking and beautiful to watch.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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