Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: John Hillcoat
Notable Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron
Creating a movie about a post-apocalyptic world which has been stripped of almost all life in every form can be a daunting task, if for no other reason than that it’s an incredibly depressing atmosphere to have to pay to witness when one goes to the movies usually to escape reality. The Road, which is based off the Pulitzer Prize winning novel written by Cormac McCarthy, pulls no punches though, and has taken the challenge of putting to the screen a hard hitting, almost hopeless reality check of what could possibly happen if life as we knew it completely ceased to exist.
The movie stars Viggo Mortensen as Man, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Boy, and as in the book, while the two have no names, they’re father and son. The story begins with Mortensen waking up beside his wife (Charlize Theron) only to notice a fiery light coming from outside the window. We aren’t shown what is happening outside, only Mortensen’s reaction to what he sees as he quickly goes and turns on the bathtub and sink to let them both fill with water, thus indicating that an incredibly destructive event is taking place and resources will be needed in all ways available.
We then cut to Mortensen with a full beard waking up next to his son in a cold, desolate environment, subtly hinting without the need of words that an allotted amount of time has passed since this cataclysmic event has taken place. He and the boy wake to another dismal day, as we see them walk about the lifeless lands, where trees seemingly uproot themselves and keel over when they aren’t being ripped from the ground from the constant earthquakes that rock the quiet earth. Death can be seen from all angles, and food is as scarce as the sunlight that can no longer break through the shadowy skies.
The film gives small amounts of back-story on Mortensen and his wife through flashback-type dream sequences as he and his son walk the empty roads, working their way south. This could have proven a distraction if done improperly, though luckily the story remains tight, and these sequences help shine a light on how these two people have come to the place they are in, and why Mortensen fights so hard to keep moving forward when everything around them all but calls out for them to lay down and accept their fate.
Mortensen tries to give his son hope by telling him that they’re the good guys, and that they’re carrying a fire in their hearts that pushes them to survive, unlike those who have resorted to cannibalism and murder. What’s intriguing about this is that while he’s working so hard to teach his son about the good they need to make sure they don’t lose, at the same time seemingly losing the very humanity he speaks of in an attempt to keep them alive.
The choices that are presented to these characters, in such a dire time, are almost not choices at all. It’s do or die, and in a world where death can come around any corner, whether natural or otherwise, one may wonder how far one would go in order to survive just one more day, to get just one mile further in hopes to protect those who you love; even if the blatant irony is that it’s just protection from the unavoidable.
The cinematography and landscapes in this film are hauntingly beautiful. The world comes across as an vast, empty canvas, yet filled with hints of a destructive event that all but caused the extinction of the life on this planet. Director John Hillcoat hits all his emotional marks, and leaves a feeling with the viewer that when faced with the extremist of extreme conditions all choices made will not be as heroic as we may hope.
Mortensen, who was nominated for an Oscar for his lead role in Eastern Promises, may find himself on the nomination block once more for his work in The Road. While Smit-McPhee does solid work as his son, Mortensen carries the brunt of the emotional work on his shoulders throughout, and really drives home the desperation those who survived feel day in and day out. Theron’s work is also up to par with her other dramatic roles, and shows another side of how things could play out depending on which road a person may choose to take.
The Road is a great film, though it feels as though something is missing. The acting and direction is all on the upside, yet coming in at under two hours, one may feel that as depressing as the setting is, that there could be more to say. Unlike some films where this could hinder the final product, The Road still works, and tells the story it wants to tell, which, while not a crowd pleaser, is still worth the price of admission.