The Road Review (4 of 5)

John Hillcoat’s ‘The Road’ lingered with me long after I had left the theater. It was one of the more bleak and humorless movies that I’ve seen in a long while and  I have to say up front that this movie isn’t for everyone. I know people who would not have  made it to the halfway point, just because of the overwhelming desolation depicted. The movie’s setting is that of the appocalypse, whatever that may have  been. Atomic holocaust and the nuclear winter that would follow? World killing asteroid? Massive volcanic eruptions? 2012 (the movie, not the year)? The reason is never given, only hinted at on a couple of occasions in the film and it seems as though (ONCE AGAIN) man is the cause of his own destruction. The skies grow grayer by the day, cities have burned, all of the animals have died for the most part save man the vegetation is dying, and much of humanity is eating itself. LITERALLY.

The violence in the movie is portrayed fairly realistcally and cannibalism is more than hinted at. Again, the movie is not for the squeamish. The movie on at least a couple of occasions goes up to that invisible line that divides ‘responsible filmmaking’ and the profane. It might even inch over it before pulling back. It does avoid the need to SHOW ALL that is the necessity in the torture-porn genre. Have I dwelled on that enough?

The movie is about a father who is trying to teach his son how to survive in this newly hostile world where humanity for the most part has been reduced to its baser instincts. The father is played by Viggo Mortensen and is never really named other than to be called ‘papa’ by his unnamed son (played by newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee).

There are a few flashbacks when times were better for the Man and his wife. It’ll be hard for me to talk about the wife (Charlize Theron) and the flashbacks without revealing story, so I won’t, but the wife is no longer with the father and son, and had severe reservations about bringing her child into this dying world.

The only real goal for the Father and Son are to reach the coast for no other reason than the Pacific is an offering of Hope. There are several standard scenes of the ‘appocalyptic’  and ‘road’ movie genre. There also seemed to be some storytelling devices that seemed borrowed from other movies even into the credits (where a similar effect was done during the credits of the superior appocalypse movie: CHILDREN OF MEN). There are a lot of surprises in the movie, though, and Hillcoat  gives relief from the overall dreary atmosphere the audience feels from time to time. The movie is not all endless foreboding but it is without humor, much like his last film The Proposition (the brutal Aussie western which I loved). It would also explain the Guy Pearce cameo (although it was an IMPORTANT part), since he was the star of that one.

The Oscar talk for Mortensen is justified. He does a great job portraying a man simultaneously dogged, but slowly losing a grip on the ideals and purpose of his former life. In trying to protect his son in such an inhospitable world, there are several times where his character is faced with horrifying choices and he portrays the internal conflicts with weight and conviction. He looks as if he also did one of  those ‘suffering for his art’ Hollywood weight loss things for the role. He does indeed look like a starving man throughout. There are several great scenes with Smit-McPhee’s character that involve issues of faith, purpose and retaining one’s humanity.

There are also a great couple of scenes with an unrecognizable Robert Duvall portraying an older survivor. Calling himself Eli, he has dinner with the Father and Son and discusses the World with them, with obvious allegorical implications. If you don’t see them, you’re really trying hard NOT to. There is also something to be said metaphorically with the levels of trust that each of the 3 characters have with the rest of humanity.

This was a strangely spiritual movie despite all of the brutality and suffering depicted. It’s well worth watching if you have the stomach for it. I appreciate movies as entertainment as much as the next 3D glasses wearin’ fool as much as the next film nerd, but it’s nice to walk out of a movie theater and have the ideas presented on the movie screen stay with you for some time afterward. After some wrestling with how much I liked this one, I have to end up giving it 4 out of 5. A truly great movie, if not a little bit depressing at times. I guess I’ll have to redo my 2009 ‘Best of’ List’…


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