- Released Internationally on 25/11/09
- Released in Malta by KRS on 17/02/10
In a nutshell
In an unspecified time, after an unexplained event has wiped out nearly all life on earth, an unnamed man and his only son must fight for survival against other survivors, the elements, and hunger.
The film is a wonderful, respectful and unwavering adaptation of the excellent book by Cormac McCarthy, who also penned No Country For Old Men. Showered with acclaim ever since its release in 2006, the novel is both a touching father and son story, as well as a cautionary environmental tale. Early trailers gave the impression that the story had been given a ‘Hollywood’ makeover with extra characters and elements of a disaster movie, but these are thankfully absent from the finished product.
Stripping away the details
It is the absence of these extra details that renders the story so powerful and focused. Disaster movies are nowadays frequent and varying in quality, and we never seem to tire of seeing the world reach its end in different spectacular fashions. That’s not the point here. What happened before the event is only briefly hinted at in flashbacks, and there are no fancy CGI destruction shots anywhere to be seen. Instead, we join ‘the man’ and ‘the boy’ as they trudge across the scorched earth, scavenging for food and heading south for what they hope will be a milder climate.
What we do know is that whatever happened was powerful and widespread enough to effectively arrest life on earth. Plants and animals are all dead or dying, and all that remains are a few (un)lucky individuals with the whole ransacked planet as their playground. The number one priority is food, and everyone forays through the rubble and deserted buildings for preservatives or anything else edible. With time, the spectre of cannibalism rears its unholy head, causing our two protagonists to fear other humans more than the cold or hunger.
Any colour, as long as it’s grey
With the sun perpetually shielded by a cloud of ash, the earth is a bleak and depressing landscape, with plummeting temperatures. We’re never told exactly where the road passes through, but each leg of the journey brings them to more grey-toned destruction. Largely shunning visual effects, the filmmakers found numerous run-down locations across North America, and filmed on the dullest days possible. Any greenery was later removed digitally, and shots were toned down to fit the overall look. There’s even an impressive scene filmed during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, with the resulting havoc fitting in perfectly.
Father to son
Viggo Mortensen makes the film. We see him slowly wither and fade under the immense strain of hunger, travel, and the painful memories of his wife (Charlize Theron) who didn’t survive the event. The pain and anguish on his bearded face is balanced by the love for his son (newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee), and the chemistry between them, so essential to a film like this, works convincingly. The man’s purpose is clear – besides surviving and reaching the coast, he must equip his young son with the skills and cunning to survive without him should they get separated. He never misses a chance to teach his son, and makes sure he knows the difference between themselves - the good guys, and the cannibals – the bad guys. Mortensen is fast becoming the most interesting actor working today, and this powerful performance stands alongside his excellent work in Eastern Promises and The Lord of the Rings.
The main narrative of the book and film revolves around certain key episodes in the duo’s journey. Each memorable episode is brought to life and filled with urgency and emotion, since each one presents a potential life or death situation for our fragile heroes. The discovery of a residual can of coke in a derelict dispenser becomes a touching moment of discovery for the boy, who has never tasted the bubbly flavour before. The exploration of abandoned houses is a tough decision, since food supplies or dangerous squatters could be found within. A chance encounter with an ageing fellow survivor (Robert Duvall) provides a rare chance for friendship and humanity. With our focus so sharply on the man and boy, these episodes resonate and make the film engrossing from start to finish.
In the end
Director John Hillcoat has brought McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to the screen without pandering to any blockbuster norms and without diluting the powerful father-son bond and desperate survival struggle they face. This is by no means light viewing, but besides being bleak, harrowing and often haunting, it is ultimately moving and very, very beautiful. Easily one of the best films of the year.
http://www.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/theroad/ (High-res QuickTime)