"The Road" DVD, Blu-ray Review

5/27/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"The Road"

Directed by John Hillcoat, Written by Joe Penhall, 111 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Like the Cormac McCarthy novel upon which it is based, "The Road" is just about the most dread-filled piece of storytelling you're likely to find in this day and age. Where many post-apocalyptic stories somehow find ways to mix idealism and hope into their tales, "The Road" does quite the opposite, becoming more hopeless as it goes on and making sure to let everyone in the audience know that the world, post-apocalypse or not, is a horrible, horrible place.

So it's not too inappropriate that John Hillcoat takes the helm on this one. His excellent breakthrough western, "The Proposition," says a lot about the nature of man and the world they inhabit, and the vast and ugly landscapes of the Australia he captures in that film aren't too different from the world of "The Road."

Viggo Mortensen plays someone merely called "the Man," and he and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are travelling on the deserted highways of this broken world in an attempt to reach some sort of safe haven. Like in McCarthy's novel, we're not told what has destroyed our world so utterly. That's because it doesn't matter what does us in--war, disease, natural disasters, the fact of the matter is, it's just a matter of time before it actually happens.

The road is a long and dangerous one. Cannibals in enormous armed vehicles roam the streets, killing everyone they find and keeping children for, well, nefarious purposes. The Man trusts no one, and he indoctrinates his boy in the single belief that self-preservation is more crucial than anything. No one, young or old, generous or cruel, should be trusted.

Sprinkled throughout their journey are flashbacks to their life before leaving home. Charlize Theron has a brief appearance as Mortensen's wife, who doesn't share his belief that there is somewhere in the world safe for them. Before leaving her husband and son behind forever, she shapes the Man into the cold, pessimistic and untrusting person he has become.

Performances of Mortensen's calibre here are hard to come by. He is far from someone likable or charming to spend our time with, but he brilliantly conveys the hopelessness and anger of a man trapped in this horrific situation. And when the truly heartfelt moments where he expresses his love for his son come about, you know this is a special performance. This is a heavy character to carry, but Mortensen does it without fail.

It's this balance between pessimism and heart that is so present in the characters but that the film itself is drastically missing. Hillcoat is a fine director, and I don't expect one could visualize the novel (or a destroyed world in general) better than he does here, but he leaves no room for hope, even in the small moments. That's not really something fair to take fault in, considering the message of the film is, after all, a generally pessimistic one, but there's always room for some amount of hope, but Hillcoat seems to avoid it at every opportunity, even when it would better suit his narrative.

There's also just the matter of the plot basically being a man and his son walking from one bad situation to another. In McCarthy's text, this kind of story can be told without repetitiveness or dullness because of his specifically simple and poetic prose. It doesn't translate to film quite as well as Hillcoat may have expected.

Hillcoat does display his knack for suspense, however. He captures fear, tension, and rage with impressive ease, and many of the moments where the Man and his son must face the dangers of the road are truly thrilling, especially one where they take shelter in what appears to be an abandoned house only to find themselves trapped inside when its cannibal inhabitants return from the hunt.

I think that ultimately McCarthy's novel simply was not meant to be translated to the screen. It's far from a poor adaptation--the performances and direction alone make it an admirable effort. But sometimes stories so laced with dread and pessimism will prove more effective on the page, and this is definitely one of those cases. A solid film, and a terrifying one, but one not quite as effective or profound as its source material.

Grade: C+

View the trailer for "The Road" below.  What did you think of the movie?

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