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The Road (2009)

December 6, 2009

VERDICT:
9/10 Flame Bearers

Is it as good as the book? No. But it’s a damn good adaptation all the same.

The Road is about a father and son trying to survive in post-apocalyptic America as they make their way down to the southern coast, hoping to find a place where they can live and start anew in a world seemingly devoid of “good guys”.

So this review is being written from someone who absolutely loved Cormac McCarthy’s source material and still counts it as one of the best books he’s read in a good long while. The main reason I mention this is because I can see how this movie might be a bit much if you’re going into it blind, completely unfamiliar with what’s in store. This isn’t the apocalypse in 2o12, nor is this a Greenpeace PSA about the inevitable dangers of global warming, The Road is about hope in the face of doom, the depths of the human soul (and it goes pretty darn deep), and a father’s love for his son.

After seeing the trailer a couple times – which unfortunately sucked – a few months back, I was left very concerned about a couple liberties I thought director John Hillcoat was going to take with this story. But rather than go on and make this a book vs. movie review, let me just say that the trailer is wildly misleading in regards to the feel and overall context of the movie, straying in very few aspects – which all happen to work out for the better – and following the novel’s plot pretty religiously for the most part. Being that there isn’t anything that really needed changing to begin with, this was a relief.

Alright, back to John Hillcoat.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Hillcoat as this is only his sophomore effort, but hopefully this will serve as a launching pad of sorts for him. Despite his brief rap sheet, I couldn’t think of a better person to capture the look and feel of this grim-as-death story after I went head-over-heels for his debut film a couple years back, The Proposition (the best Westerns of the past ten years – check it out). The guy’s got an incredible eye for the gritty, dirty side of life and does wonders in somehow managing to turn a grey, barren wasteland into a thing of awesome beauty. It’s one of those things that needs to be seen to be fully understood, but the scenery here is just unreal, rivaling even that of Alfonso Cuaron’s England in Children of Men – and that’s saying something.

He keeps the pace up without turning it into The Road Warrior and does well not to beat his audience over the head with the subtle tone and message of the script. It can be a tough movie to get through, but Hillcoat keeps it at a nice shade of dark without taking things overboard. But like I said, you might not be thinking likewise if you don’t already know what’s coming.

And for those of you who read the book and were wondering, no, “the baby” does not make an appearance. That would be taking it overboard.

Thankfully, the acting here is also just as subtle and powerful as the technical aspects of this movie are. Viggo Mortensen is great as the father, going from protective parent to vulnerable husband at the flip of the switch and bringing it home as the real driving force of the cast. He’s got a couple of strong scenes where he breaks out the waterworks, but it’s not overdramatic and it’s very, very convincing. Good job, Viggo. Way to break away from Aragorn.

The son is played by newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee. For the most part I thought he was pretty good, maybe a little too whiney and a little older than I initially imagined him looking, but he gets a lot better by the last half-hour as his character starts to fully develop.

But probably the biggest surprise here is Charlize Theron as Viggo’s wife/Kodi’s mom. She ends up playing a pretty substantial role, which was surprising considering she’s more or less a footnote in the novel, but it actually works out for the best. She’s pretty solid and her presence really helps to flesh out the father’s and son’s characters in turn. Thought this was going to make the movie lose points, but hey, everything worked out.

There’s also a great cameo by Robert Duvall and a good cameo by Guy Pearce – both of whom are totally unrecognizable. Definitely wasn’t expecting to see them, but since they’re both A-okay in my book, I’m not complaining.

Now for those out there who saw the trailer, be forewarned – or relieved – that this is not a disaster movie. You’re never told why or how the end of days finally came around, but that’s the way it should be. The Road is about morally sound, yet morally struggling, human beings that have been placed in these dire circumstances and as the audience, we’re just along for the ride. It doesn’t matter what caused it, because to focus on that would be to misunderstand this movie altogether. You want answers, go ask the Mayans.

And while it doesn’t entirely carry the same emotional weight of the novel, The Road is still a fantastic movie that captures a lot of what made the story so incredible to begin with. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the book, maybe I just love me a good riff about the apocalypse, but I didn’t go into this with very high expectations and I came out a total convert.

My suggestion: read the book if you haven’t already – it’ll only take you a day or two – then go see the movie. It’s not a make-or-break thing, but it helped for me. Man, read the book even if you’re not gonna see the movie. You’ll thank me later.

There’s also a great, eerie score by Nick Cave (of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) – the same guy who did the score for The Proposition. Really complements the movie well and since the guy’s a badass to begin with, had to throw that in there.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. madhatter21 permalink
    December 6, 2009 9:29 am

    You want answers, go ask the Mayans.

    How early in the morning do you have to get up to be that witty? This review is spot-on, especially where it comes to the expanded role of Charlize Theron as the wife. I was pretty worried when she turned up so often in the trailer, but what they did with the part was heartbreaking.

    Right now this is one of the best movies in theatres, and this time of year that is saying something.

  2. December 6, 2009 12:24 pm

    This book was so good! I really was looking forward to seeing this film, then I heard the reviews and they weren’t totally what I was expecting. But now, thanks to you Aiden, I’am going out to see this. Nice Review man Thanks!!!!

    • December 7, 2009 1:31 pm

      Thanks, man. Hope you enjoy it. That book was so damn good.

  3. pablochiste permalink
    December 6, 2009 2:36 pm

    Good review. Check out the opinion of someone who hasn’t read the book on http://pablochiste.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/one-for-the-road/

  4. December 6, 2009 6:38 pm

    This really looks interesting and I really want to see it but I think that’s a movie you can wait to watch at home by yourself

    • December 7, 2009 1:32 pm

      Yeah, it looks great on a big screen, but if you’ve got a nice TV I’m sure it’ll do the trick just as well. Nothing very flashy, more about the characters than the visuals.

  5. December 6, 2009 6:43 pm

    As for Viggo Mortensen, he is an actor’s actor. Most people think of the LOTR trilogy when Viggo is mentioned but watch him in a History of Violence and Eastern Promises where he gives brilliant performances

    • December 7, 2009 1:32 pm

      Most def, he was great in both of those. I like this Cronenberg/Mortensen team that’s been going on. Good combo.

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