Directed by John Hillcoat, starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Charlize Theron, written by Joe Penhall.
If you are going to pick one of the recent post-apocalyptic thrillers to view, discount 2012 and The Book of Eli straightaway. With its powerful story, gripping action and thought-proving portrayal a world torn asunder by the power of nature, The Road wipes all of its competitors off the map.
John Hillcoat's adaption of Cormac McCarthy's prize-winning novel is a very accurate cinematic portrayal of the original story. This isn't necessarily a spectacular feat, as McCarthy's writing lends itself to the screen excessively well. After watching the Coen Brothers' adaption of No Country for Old Men before reading the book, I was surprised at how similar they were, right down to the dialogue and the camera angles and cuts. You could almost do away with a screenplay and just use the novel. The story of The Road centres on the journey of a father and his young son, as they travel through the natural disaster ravaged wastes of North America. Heading South to escape the biting winter, the duo encounter bloodthirsty cannibals and battle against the elements and starvation, all the while fighting the relentless urge to just give up and die.
As the above synopsis suggests, The Road is a very bleak movie, not a feel-good film by a long shot. But that is not to say that it isn't an emotional and touching story. The relationship between the 'Father', played by Viggo Mortensen, and the 'Boy', played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, is profoundly deep, each of them supporting and relying upon the other much more than words can express. This is displayed by the fantastic performances from both actors, who obviously formed a strong and real bond in the making of the film. There are heart-wrenching moments throughout the movie that play on the viewer's humanity, such as the incident with the thief, which I have to admit almost had me in tears. The Road is also an extremely horrific film, especially in regards to the theme of cannibalism that runs throughout the story. However it does not over-indulge itself in the way that gore-fest movies such Hostel do, instead playing with the imagination of the audience, using suggestion and subtlety where others would give you a screen filled with blood and guts.
The Road is most definitely a visually striking film. With the story set in a post-apocalyptic future it is very important that this be shown in a believable and impacting way, which Hillcoat does to great success. There are some fantastic images of destruction and ruination throughout the film, such as the hundreds of collapsed burnt tree trunks floating with an ominous silence on a lake, or the roaring walls of fire that line the horizon at night. In particular the scenes at one point of huge ships run aground amongst buckled and broken roads and overpasses are incredibly poignant, and where created using actual images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The film's small cast all give impressive and credible performances. Kodi Smit-McPhee impressed me in particular, as I find that child actors can be the element that often lets down films such as these. Smit-McPhee however displayed a very natural intensity, and although portraying a fragile and innocent character seemed mature and assured. Charlize Theron's performance as the 'Mother' is painfully genuine, as is Michael K Williams as 'The Thief' and Robert Duvall as the 'Old Man'. The actors playing the groups of cannibalistic hunters are terrifyingly inhuman and savage, displaying how callous and selfish a human can be.
Natural disaster is a topical subject considering the tragic events that have occurred recently in Haiti, and The Road manages to deal with this subject in a thoughtful and considered way. Although the seemingly global natural disaster that occurs in the story is extremely unrealistic, as my Geography-studying fiancé pointed out, it is the impact upon, and the reaction of humanity that is the important factor. Rather than preach about who is at fault or what needs to be done to avoid such a crisis, The Road shows what the pressure of these situations can make a person become, and how hard it is to retain your humanity when the people around you are turning into monsters. The film shows that in desperate times, paranoia, greed and ruthlessness can very easily replace loyalty, perseverance and selflessness.
There are some very slight changes from the original story in Joe Penhall's adaptation of The Road, but these changes work well and demonstrate the clever use of creative licence. The ending of the story in particular is reworked slightly, but is nevertheless an effective finish that still allows the audience the make their own conclusions in the way that the book does. The other cinematic elements that make up the film as a whole, such as the costumes, music and sound effects, are all of the highest quality, matching the superb storytelling and convincing performances.
Whether or not this movie was made with Oscar-winning aspirations in mind, it definitely deserves to win a few in my opinion. Converting McCarthy's novel to the screen with an effortless but also tragic grace, The Road is a film that will stick in your mind and heart long after you view it. The movie is a challenge to us all as to whether dire circumstances would cause us to lose our humanity, or if we would keep on "carrying the fire."
If you liked this, then try: Children of Men, The Day After Tomorrow, No Country for Old Men and Road to Perdition.