MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Survival Drama/ Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Michael Kenneth Williams, Garret Dillahunt/ Runtime: 111 minutes
To start this review off, I would like each of you to pause from whatever you are currently doing and begin thinking about every single thing that present day humanity really has managed to take for granted. Now that you have thought about it, I will let you in on a little secret: mankind really truly is a lot more than a cellphone, the likes they get on social media, the gas in their vehicle, or even the food in their house. Indeed if anything mankind is more those things that deep down in all of us make this world the way it is both the good and the not so good. With that being said, mankind has managed to get to a stage in its existence where technology, the speedy world we live in, and how relatively easy it is for us to acquire things that even 100 years ago would have been looked at as pure science fiction and yet it really is quite easy to take all of this for granted. I mean forget that work deadline or that text from your significant other asking what you are bringing home for dinner and really stop to consider just how simple life can be, but also every single thing which goes into making that easy in the first place. Now that you have done so imagine a world where everything from the products to the wish to make them better has been completely annihilated. Indeed what would truly be left? Yes the shell of what used to be called modern society, but what beyond that now dead cellular device, that inoperable laptop, that garden that is deader than disco, and the home which is completely in disrepair? Is there truly enough ingenuity, bravery, and insight to make everything somehow work to say nothing of the powers of love, encouragement, and other such positive emotions to make rebuilding even worth it? I ask dear reader because the film I am reviewing today known as The Road, helmed by John Hillcoat and based on a book of the same name by celebrated author Cormac McCarthy is one that imagines such a world where there is nothing left, but subtle odes to what had once been as well as to those still around who will determine where we go from here. Indeed it may not be the easiest, or happiest for that matter, slice of cinematic pie to get through, but thanks to wonderful work on both sides of the camera as well as some absolutely riveting thematic material at play, The Road is a journey through a smashed, desolate, and truly broken landscape that is most assuredly a tour worth taking.
The plot is as follows: The Road takes us to a version of our world where one day for whatever reason all the clocks on the planet stopped working at exactly 1:17. Indeed how or why is unknown, but what is known is that this would be the last time that our planet chose to exist as a vibrant, beautiful, positive place full of life and happiness. Since then, the color is deluded, life is all but gone, fear is the dominant emotion, and man’s moral compass has been put under a boot and smashed beyond repair. Indeed this is a world that isn’t powered by electricity, social media, or even cars, but rather with a degree of muscle, an iron will, and being on the right end of a gun. It is also a land where should you wish to survive then keep your head down and out of sight otherwise cannibals will overtake you and eat you alive literally. Thus it really does seem like mankind has degraded to states with a population of one…..for the most part. I add that last bit because there is an exception to this rule which takes the form of our main characters aka a father and his young boy. Indeed here is a pair whose continued survival in this battered landscape solely depends on how good they are at keeping themselves out of peril simply because they wish to eat or make friends. Rather they must acquire whatever it is they need when they can and wherever they are just so long as they can avoid being detected. Suffice it to say then that our dynamic duo is able to discover that they can only rely on one another as they embark on a journey along the East Coast in an attempt to find anything that could aid them in their endeavor to just simply survive one more day…
Now it is worth noting that plain and simply this is, despite the grimness of its’ subject matter quite the lovely film. Indeed film helmer John Hillcoat manages to do the incredible and conjure up a movie going experience that is filled to the brim with meaning, built with style and grace, performed with just the right degrees of humanity and dignity, and scored brilliantly and then setting all these ingredients up against one of the most depressing and darn near darkest canvases ever showcased in cinema. I say that because The Road is as depressing as a film I have seen that also manages to contain a narrative that has a specific purpose. Indeed on a superficial level, this is a film that deals with the lack of hope, to say nothing of any kind of structure or those goods we take for granted and the madness that ensues. Under the surface of this particular cinematic ocean however, this is a riveting saga about the power a dream can have, being thankful for even the teeny tiniest of miracles, and the incredible strong bond of love in each and every one of our lives. Indeed there isn’t a whole lot to a typical narrative to be found in this film, but it is still one which is not even close to being dull or one note due to being able to locate a much deeper meaning in every moment no matter how bleak the film may be throughout. Indeed this is a truly riveting movie going experience because this film not only gets to the heart of what it means to be a human being right from the word go, but because this is an odyssey of the soul and not the body. Indeed this is not an entry in the apocalyptic genre in the vein of say any of the Mad Max films, but rather functions as a thought-provoking journey through a literal graveyard and the only thing that is still human in any rudimentary sense of the word is the unbreakable bond between our father and son protagonists.
Now in lesser-skilled hands, and I am sorry to say this, but this movie would fail before it even had a chance to begin. Thankfully, the cast and crew that have been assembled for this film have managed to create for us a riveting entry in the world of less-is-more cinema that functions more on what is under the cinematic waters rather than on the surface and this is a philosophy which has been taken to the limit, but with wonderful results. Indeed as we see on this journey with our father and son protagonists, no more and no less than a dying world, thoughts of ending it all, and no more than just a mere hint of humanity all prove to be crucial ingredients in their odyssey towards whatever it is that fate, if such a thing still exists in this graveyard of a world, has in mind for them. Just as crucially however, this is a landscape that may still sometimes be as cut and dry as good against evil, but then there are moments where it is a whole lot more complicated. Oh and it is also a landscape where a simple can of soda is a luxury, but a pair of bullets and a gun that works feels like a last-case scenario and a fitting goodbye, farewell, and amen to this desolate landscape instead of just something to help you survive. Finally this is also a world where the ability to find even a morsel of decency or something just plain good isn’t just rare, but rather is truly one-in-a-million and where the world reeks not just of everything in the grave or headed there, but from the overwhelming atmosphere of hopelessness and regret as we see everyone is just simply lingering around and hoping to live to see another day even though they know that the next day will most likely result in nothing better than the day before.
Now The Road manages to make these riveting themes a lot more prominent through its phenomenal work in making this film actually look like it is set post-apocalypse. Indeed there really aren’t a whole lot of films as persuasive as this, and yet as simple as it is to shoot deserted roads, decaying foliage, and battered and crumbling away buildings, the filmmaking team has also managed to ensnare not only the visual cues necessary for this narrative, but also the emotions that come with the greater comprehension of just what everything is supposed to mean. Indeed this is a film that succeeds on the level that it does due to capturing for us how it would feel to live in a world that has been knee-capped and is now stumbling around and struggling to get back up again, but so far to no avail. Also really adding to this film’s success is the phenomenal work done by the dynamic duo in charge of bringing the duo of lead characters vividly to life. Indeed both Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee manage to completely immerse themselves in their parts like not a whole lot of other actors could’ve. Yes you could think that it might not be that hard to give a great performance under levels of muck, battered and tattered attire, and a messy mane of hair, but there is a whole lot more to it than that and these two thespians nail it. Indeed in the lead role, Mortensen is phenomenal in a truly incredible performance that fits in perfectly with both the themes and landscape of the film. Indeed this is a man who is able to showcase the necessary degrees of hopelessness and resignation, but is also able to show on both a physical and verbal level an unyielding love and protectiveness for his boy be it getting him a can of soda or showing how to fare for himself, and Mortensen nails the role brilliantly. Kodi Smit-McPhee, however, manages to give us one of the most emotional turns given to us by a child thespian in a long time, in fact I would say it is easily one of the finest since the one we got from Lucas Black when he starred with Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. Indeed it isn’t often that we see a thespian of any age or skill level so flawlessly showcase such a mixture of awe, love, respect, and fear on the level as Smit-McPhee manages to pull off and it really truly makes for a remarkable turn that will stay with you longer after the movie concludes and the credits begin to roll.
All in all a phenomenal degree of unease, a smattering of truly ruthless actions and incredibly difficult choices to make as well as the loss of hope, to say nothing of the power of love whilst facing an incredibly unknown future ahead of you. These, dear reader are the ingredients that make up the film The Road. Indeed not only do these ingredients really create quite the depressing and bleak world, but they also manage to ensnare the incredible power of the soul of man to survive even the grimmest of obstacles. Suffice it to say then that as an off-the-beaten-path gem that sadly didn’t get half as much recognition as it deserves, this is a true must-see not only for the top-notch work by the cast or production team as well as its strong work at the helm, but also for how it is able to showcase an uplifting glimpse of good in a world that has gone horrifically bad. Make no mistake this is a tough movie to sit through, but should you be able to you will find it is a journey most certainly worth your time and effort. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Road “09” a solid 3.5 out of 5.