The Road


Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by:Joe Penhall
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Molly Parker, Molly Parker
Released: January 28, 2010
Grade: B+

Late last year, we were “treated” to 2012 – one of the worst films in recent memory.  I loved the term used by other critics when they described it as “doomsday porn”.  It showed our planet being destroyed by tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanos.  It sure sounds bad but don’t worry, it was packaged up as fun entertainment.  All the good characters survived (after 32,000 close shaves) and only the bad people didn’t make it.

I’m describing The Road as the “realistic” equivalent.  If our world did face annihilation, this film paints a far more accurate picture of what would really happen.  Be warned though.  The movie is heavy, heavy going.  It’s grim and it’s depressing.  When the end credits started to roll, the patrons at the preview screening sat there in silence.  No one wanted to leave and you could hear a pin drop.

The central characters are a father (Mortensen) and his young son (Smit-McPhee).  They are two of the last remaining creatures in a world which has fallen apart.  I use the term “creatures” because I’m referring to everything.  There are no birds, no animals and no insects.  The apocalypse has wiped almost every skerrick of life from the planet.

In freezing temperatures, this duo are trekking south across the United States in search of food and in search of hope.  The father has a sense that their plight is doomed but he pushes on regardless.  He’s not going to give in.  He loves his son dearly and is determined to give him every chance of survival.

We quickly learn that their biggest concern is not the lack of food.  Rather, it is a small army of other humans who have reverted to cannibalism in order to survive.  The father knows they must evade capture or else they’ll end up as someone’s dinner.  That may sound sickening but it’s reality.  In desperate times people will do desperate things (for better or worse).

Above all else though, the film is about the relationship shared between father and son.  The elder statesman knows he can’t protect his son forever and that he must teach him how to survive.  This isn’t easy to do.  They are both very different people.  The father has been left jaded by bad experiences and is fearful of anyone he encounters.  The son still has his youthful innocence and is not familiar with the “old” world left behind. 

For the most part, I liked this movie.  There were some intense scenes which left me on the edge of my seat.  It also raised some interesting questions that gave me plenty to think about afterwards.  Did the father always do the right thing?  What would I have done in the same situation?

My major grievance was with the film’s ending.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Is there a message which I didn’t pick up on?  It just seemed out of place given everything which preceded it.  Perhaps I need to read Cormac McCarthy’s novel (also the author of No Country For Old Men) to gain a deeper understanding.

I want to finish on a positive note and praise the vision of Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition).  Helped by a terrific performance from Viggo Mortensen (A History Of Violence), Hillcoat has created a distinctive film with plenty of emotion.  I understand it won’t suit everyone’s tastes with its gloomy subject matter but it’s a strong film nevertheless.