Monday, November 30, 2009
THE ROAD - MY REVIEW
Let me start this whole thing by saying that The Road is one of my favorite books of all time. It began my love of Cormac McCarthy and I, like most, became very skeptical at the idea of a movie version. The book is so personal, so intimate that I couldn't see how filmmakers would be able to bring that to the big screen without getting caught in the trappings of "post apocalyptic" cliches. Thankfully director John Hillcoat has decided he'd rather make a wonderful movie than a money maker. The Road isn't going to be a huge hit because it is bleak, unforgiving and relentless. This isn't the post apocalyptic movie with a pocket of survivors building a new world or someplace where the sun still shines and the grass is still green. This is the end of the world as we know it and there is nothing to do but survive each day.
The Road tells the tale of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) trying desperately to make it further south to the coast where the father believes will be more hospitable living conditions. Through their journey the father is torn between teaching his son the harsh realities needed to survive and not driving the humanity from him completely. The world they venture through is a horrible place covered totally in ash where humans keep other humans in living storage to eat and trying to make friends could kill you. The boy and his father who are never given names exist solely for each other and that devotion is as much warmth as the movie allows you to have. Much like the father and son the audience lives only to see the world through their eyes.
The hardest part of adapting a book like The Road into a film is simply that, well, it isn't a book. In McCarthy's novel the focus between the boy and his father is so nuanced and written so poetically that you're allowed to forget the back drop. The human story is all there is and it never gets lost in the shadow of what post apocalyptic America must look like. Though writer Joe Penhall's screenplay is astonishingly good as well as pretty faithful it's still bringing the written word to the screen. No matter how intimate the shots or the scenes are it's still against a back drop that, now visible, is hard to ignore. This could've been an issue that sunk the picture if not for the performances which continue to bring the focus back to the relationships.
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-Mcphee keep The Road anchored to reality simply by allowing you to believe that what they see is simply their reality. They have now awe, no surprise, the horrors we are witnessing for the first time are common place to them. By keeping that sense of reality going the two actors are free to bring life to their relationship and they do it in spades. I've read some reviews that state Mortensen is one note through the movie but they either didn't see the film or slept through large chunks of it. I would also make sure you don't go to the restroom or you might miss where Robert Duvall steps on screen and does more in five minutes than most actors do in an entire movie.
The other thing that makes The Road work is how Hillcoat manages to weave striking imagery without beating you over the head with it. One of my favorite instances is when Mortensen and Mcphee are walking through a city and for a brief flash they're stepping over bodies with money all around them as well as watches and jewelry. It only lasts a millisecond but says so much on how fast things can change. That kind of imagery is all through the film as are powerhouse moments that grab your heart and squeeze it until you're chest hurts. If you watch the scene when Mortensen finally lets go of the memories of his wife (played admirably by Charlize Theron) and you're not moved then you should leave the theater and find out what time Old Dogs or New Moon is playing.
I've heard some critics say that The Road is too bleak and too unforgiving and that there is no hope in the movie and still others balk that there's too much humanity at the end because of a dog (yep, that's what they said). While they argue for snob points they've missed the point. The Road is exactly what an adaptation should be, the perfect blending of the written word and the visual medium. This movie could not have been the book simply because it's a movie so all liberties taken were more out of necessity than marketing. The Road manages to keep all the intimacy and humanity of the novel against this visual backdrop that would swallow lesser material. The Road is the first film in a long time that reminds me how once upon a time film was an artistic medium that had the power to change the world.