Starring: Viggo Mortenson, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Guy Pierce, Robert Duvall, Garret Dillahunt
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Joe Penhall, Cormac McCarthy (Novel)
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Original Score: Nick Cave,Warren Ellis
Running Time: 111 Mins.
Director of The Road John Hillcoat claims that, despite what many of the preconceptions to The Road may be based on trailers and the source novel, as to its deeply depressing story and subject matter (how could the end of the world NOT be depressing!) that there is no such thing as a depressing film, merely a bad film. I beg to differ as anyone who has seen Requiem for a Dream, The Mist or The Wrestler will attest, they are all deeply depressing, even if there is an uplifting message in the end you will most certainly not leave the auditorium with a big grin on your face and punching the air in joy! Though they are all undoubtedly very well made and in the case of one or two, very entertaining.
So with this in mind I would categorically place The Road in the very well made, but still depressingly bleak, category, that it is bleak, downbeat and yes to an extent depressing, is not to discredit the amount of talent and skill that has gone into making it, for all this though there is something severely lacking, emotional heft.
The Proposition, Hillcoat’s last film, is one of the best of the decade, stunning to look at and beautifully directed with a score by Nick Cave that is both moving and deeply fitting, all of those elements are carried over into The Road, but where I connected with the characters in The Proposition I could not warm to the central relationship of The Man (Viggo Mortenson) and The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) this time around. Both put in great performances, Mortenson can do world weary like no-one else and there is no doubt he is one of the greatest method actors around and Smit-McPhee, and director, are to be applauded for not letting The Boy become irritating as was always a possibility given the level of precociousness required.
As with No Country For Old Men (Cormac McCarthy’s last novel to be adapted for the screen), The Road sticks closely to the source material, taking much of the script directly from the page and keeping the prevalent themes present, including the brutal food situation that has led to cannibalism. Although certain details have been omitted (we didn’t need to see a baby being cooked on a spitroast!) there is enough here to suggest how desperate times have become with feral gangs scouring the land for fuel and food, people or otherwise! A few key scenes strike a chord, the hoarding of people in a basement for food, the vast forrest’s alight and washed up ocean liners, all of which were achieved using little in the way of effects which lends the film a great authenticity.
But for all this I could not connect with the characters, and upon the final stretch when something happens that should be deeply moving, it simply isn’t. Simply put Marley and Me was more touching, which many I’m sure will take offence too, but it is true, emotionally connecting with the central duo was always going to be key as this is a film about the love between a father and son first and foremost, not the apocalypse. It’s highly likely Mortenson may face awartds season with a raft of nods but for all his skill I was simply left cold.
Aside from Man and Boy are a number of cameos by actors that most will recognise from elsewhere, it is often in these moments a little (much-needed) pathos shines through, which seems to suggest that while both Man and Boy are great actors respectively there was a certain chemistry lacking that made their relationship a little, unbelievable and cold, something not helped by the emotionally harsh turn by Charlize Theron in flashbacks as The Woman, it is clear she is supposed to have lost all hope but we needed to see a little warmth before all the bleakness in order to give a sense of happiness before the grief and place the characters plight in some perspective.
The Road IS a bleak and harrowing experience and is at its best when focusing on these elements, but when it comes to the central relationship something doesn’t quite click and as fine as Mortenson and Smit-McPhee are they lack the emotional pull that would have made The Road all it could have been, simply put more than a well-directed nice looking film.