Director: John Hillcoat.
Screenplay: Joe Penhall.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Michael Kenneth Williams, Garret Dillahunt, Molly Parker, Bob Jennings, Agnes Herrmann, Buddy Sosthand, Kirk Brown, Jack Erdie.
“When you dream about bad things happening, it means you’re still fighting and you’re still alive. It’s when you start to dream about good things that you should start to worry”
I’ll always remember the experience I had reading Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road. It wasn’t something I was initially drawn to but the fact that a film adaptation was in the pipeline led me to investigate further. It was a very bleak and emotionally shattering read but it was also morbidly fascinating and nigh-on impossible to put down. When I came to the end I remember wondering how this could be visually translated to the screen considering it delivered so little in terms of descriptive prose. Credit then to Australian director John Hillcoat for delivering a faithful recreation of a very intimate novel.
An unspecified apocalypse devastates all animal and plant life on Earth, leaving those remaining in a state of lawlessness and cannibalism. A man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are left to survive, by any means necessary, in the hope that salvation lies ahead somewhere along the road.The sheer power of McCarthy’s novel led it quickly to become a beloved piece of literature and anyone willing to attempt an adaptation was always going to have an unenviable task. With this in mind, it seemed fitting that John Hillcoat would follow-up the stark and primitive The Proposition with another realistic survival tale. In fairness, the emotional power of the book is somewhat diluted but this can so often be the case with page to screen transfers. For the most part, though, Hillcoat manages to capture the essence of the story and his visual representation is practically spot-on for how it was depicted in my mind when reading the book. In achieving this, it would be unfair not to single out the exemplary work of Javier Aguirresarobe and his fittingly, desaturated cinematography as well as keeping the CGI to a minimum which makes the stark images and locations all the more impressive and effective.Make no mistake, The Road is an arduous journey with a palpable sense of doom. As a result, this led to my first impressions of the film not being entirely positive. It felt to me like I was trudging through it, like the characters are wearily trudging through the harsh and barren landscape. However, on a recent reappraisal it strikes me just how powerful a film it is. A bold move (like the book before it) is never to explain the circumstances of the apocalyptic event. It’s irrelevant. Instead we’re thrust into a society whose fragility has been exposed to it’s weakest point with man’s inhumanity to man now the biggest threat to anyone’s survival.At it’s core the film is galvanised by two very strong central performances. Sure, there are brief, but welcome, appearances from the great Robert Duvall, the always reliable Charlize Theron and the vastly underrated Guy Pearce but, ultimately, the film rests upon the shoulders of Kodi Smit-McPhee and Viggo Mortensen, who both deliver emotionally harrowing work. Their father/son relationship captures the moments of despair and desperation while complimenting these with a tender and heart-rending vulnerability.With the exception of the Coen brothers’ Oscar winning No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy’s prose have proven difficult for some filmmakers but John Hillcoat manages to bring a faithful adaptation to the screen that’s, ironically, both bleak and beautiful.Mark Walker
Trivia: To live the role, Viggo Mortensen would sleep in his clothes and deliberately starve himself. At one point he was thrown out of a shop in Pittsburgh because they thought he was a homeless man.