The Good: Wonderful direction, Good acting
The Bad: Pacing, Lack of plot developments, Unlikable characters
The Basics: The Road is a good idea with a troublingly drawn-out execution that is unfortunately disappointing.
A few years ago, before my move to Michigan, I had a good friend who was a local librarian. He was one of the early supporters of my writing career and he even helped to fund one of my early script projects, which was pretty huge for me. While we only managed to go out to the movies once, for Inkheart (reviewed here!), but we talked quite a bit about films and television shows. Near the end of his life, he was on a post-apocalyptic movie phase and when he recommended Doomsday (reviewed here!) to me, there was an additional sense of disappointment for me because I had gone into it with such high expectations given that my friend had recommended it to me. The last film I recall him raving about was The Road, so when it, too, disappointed me, I once again felt let down.
The Road is a dark film set after an unnamed apocalyptic event. Focused intimately on a father and a son, the movie is well-directed and well-acted, but is boring as all hell. The Viggo Mortensen vehicle is based upon a novel by Cormac McCarthy and it is worth noting up front that I have never read the book. This is a pure review of the film and I have to hope that some of my friend’s love of the film was because of his affinity for the book.
Out in a wilderness where all of the vegetation and animal life has died, a man and his son are making a treacherous journey south. Following the last direction given to him by his wife, the man has struggled to protect his son as they head toward the coast. The threat of starvation is as real as the menace of cannibals, which is made explicit when the pair encounters a band of thugs. When one of the thugs starts looking at his son like a food source, the man shoots him, which forces the boy to question whether or not they actually are the “good guys.”
Further down the road, the pair discovers a house with a secret room, locked from the outside. Investigating, they discover the basement is filled with people who are being kept by the home’s owners as a food source. As they near starving to death, the pair finds a bomb shelter stocked with food. But when they hear what the man believes is a bandit one night, they leave the shelter. Continuing toward the coast, the two find themselves beset by thieves, archers, and are forced to choose between survival and protecting their humanity.
The Road spends a huge amount of time establishing mood and setting, as opposed to developing a story or even creating a compelling character journey. To that end, director John Hillcoat does an exceptional job of exploring the setting. The colors are muted, gray and brown, save in the flashbacks which are bright and golden. The food the men find is also presented in vivid colors, but the rest of the film is dirty, torn, and barren for its people, clothes, and landscaping. The Road has a realistic presentation of a decimated world that is populated by people who have reverted to the worst aspects of human nature.
Unpleasant to watch, The Road lacks the character, depth of relationships or even the plot developments of other wasteland stories, like The Walking Dead. Instead, The Road has two thin people encountering weak, frightened, equally skinny people who react with hostility and fear to the protagonists. The man is scared of everyone and everything and the constant reminder that he carries a gun so either he or the boy can off themselves quickly becomes tired.
The performances in The Road are good, even when the characters are somewhat bland. Viggo Mortensen is unsettling in the role of the man, though he plays the part with an uprightness in the flashbacks that makes it seem like he was a good man. He and Charlize Theron, who appears only in the flashback scenes, actually have very little in the way of on-screen chemistry. Their relationship raises two mysteries for the viewer: how did the man and the woman stay alive for years after the birth of the boy in the same place and how did they stay together when the world ended?
In a similar fashion, actor Kodi Smit-McPhee is so convincing as the whiny boy that it makes the viewer wonder “How did this kid get such a thin skin when he was born into the horrible world or death and cannibalism?” Smit-McPhee and Mortensen play off one another in a convincing-enough fashion to make the viewer believe that they would cling to one another with what passes for hope in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Smit-McPhee actually comes into his own opposite Guy Pearce at the climax of The Road. The child holds his own opposite an almost unrecognizable Pearce with an intensity that is surprisingly adult.
Sadly, it is not enough to save The Road. The Road is boring when it is not being intense, gory, or utterly disturbing. What The Road is not is entertaining. Instead, the film provides a cognizant argument for killing oneself at the outset of the apocalypse. After all, who would want to live in a world like the one shown in The Road?!
For other works with Charlize Theron, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Snow White And The Huntsman
Arrested Development - Season Three
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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