John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic The Road is executed extremely well, but the lack of great ability in one of the films leads holds it back from being truly magnificent.
Viggo Mortensen is not the lead in question and turns in another marvelous performance to add to his resume of superb work as of late. Viggo stars as a nameless man on the road with his nameless son as they push there cart of goods and avoid danger in any which way it may a rise. The cause of the apocalypse itself is never discussed or given any screen time at all over the course of the film, so don’t expect some sort of mystery story trying to figure out what happened. The film is a story of family and survival that is constantly in jeopardy from the most unlikely of enemies.
The film has a series of flashbacks sprinkled through out the first half of the film between the nuclear family before they were broken up, giving us depressing back story and heartbreak for our two companions that drives them on as they head on. And the film itself is pretty much a downer from start to finish; don’t expect a lot of laughs and good times along their path. In fact, the films main threat leads to a number of incredibly executed and horrifying situations that are almost unbelievable and terrifying to think of. This film is full of some of the most intense scenes of the year and will have you coiled up in your seat trying to hide from the emotion.
Hillcoat’s ability to create such bleakness and sadness in this world is quite the feat, pulling you deep into these characters world and not letting you go until long after the credits roll. The film also looks wonderful, especially for a ravaged post-apocalyptic landscape and Hillcoat and his team are able to establish the direness of the world with a few simple establishing shots dabbled throughout the picture that do their job perfectly. I think the films greatest accomplishment in its setting is to never let you feel safe for our companions on the screen and your psyche watching them. Some thing awful lingers around at every scene change and the presence of an unfortunate end is never far from anyone’s mind in the film.
Viggo is a marvel as always and his rugged father figure perfectly captures the balance between needing to be a protector, a trainer, and being a regular a dad as one can be in these dark times. The film quickly establish Viggo’s bond to his son and his untrustworthy nature to everyone they encounter along the road. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the son and while he does an admirable job that is never really bad, he really fails to shine ever in the film and doesn’t have the reciprocal chemistry that Viggo brings to the father/son relationship of the two. Now, the kid’s performance doesn’t diminish the film in any negative light by any means, it just holds it back from this film from being an all around triumph. There are also a number of cameo’s and bit parts in the film as well with Robert Duvall shining through a slew of make-up as a grizzled old-man. Charlize Theron plays the wife/mother in the flashbacks and does a very fine job at establishing her characters impact on her son and husband in only a few scenes. Michael K. Williams is sad to watch as a petty thief and Guy Pearce nails his brief appearance being exactly what we need at his critical appearance to the film.
In the end, The Road is quite the achievement on almost every level and one of the finer films of the year. Grim, disturbing, and treacherous is the path our heroes are on and their survival is almost always in question as John Hillcoat leads us on this incredible path. Viggo gives another fine performance and one of the top turns of the year and I think the film will grow even stronger as repeat viewings are warranted since you can better prepare yourself for the film after you discover where it goes. A dark and bleak adventure film that isn’t all that happy doesn’t sound like the most ideal film for your weekend visit to the theater, but with The Road you are getting one of the finest films of the year and one that you can discuss long after the credits roll.