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THE ROAD, 2009
A father (Mortensen) and son (Smit-McPhee) walk for months across a ravaged, post-apocalyptic landscape in search of civilization.
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Based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy who also wrote No Country for Old Men, an Oscar winning film, The Road is a well told story about a man and his son trying desperately to survive in a world devastated by some unknown catastrophe. As they make their way to the coast for possible food and shelter, they encounter the horrors of the new world. America is no longer the land of the free, but now the land of the savage filled with gangs of cannibals and people looking to take any valuables by any means necessary.
The only sign of hope and more importantly, humanity, comes in the relationship between father and son, which is the heart of this bleak dark tale. Viggo Mortensen is powerful as the father forced to do anything necessary to protect, provide, and save his son from the hardships and madness of this haunting America. The signs of terror, desperation, and anguish has left Mortensenís character harden, but his love for his son reminds him of days past when hope and humanity still mattered.
Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son is great as well. His quiet performance makes for some touching moments between Mortensen and him. The father son dynamic provides for some compelling and uplifting moments that contrast perfectly against Hillcoatís dystopian epic. The land is ravaged, bleak, desolate, harsh, and lonely, yet despite the odds the father and son remain optimistic for a better life even without knowing whatís waiting for them once they reach their destination.
Robert Duvall plays a sick old bitter man who tells Mortensen he knew these dark days were coming, and Charlize Theron, as the wife, both are excellent in their supporting roles. Especially worth mentioning is how well Hillcoat can create contrasting imagery through a series of flashbacks. The once ideal and pristine life Mortensen lived is seen through flashbacks with his wife, but then quickly we are thrust back in the gloomy reality.
Hillcoat does an excellent job at faithfully capturing the world McCarthy envisioned because you believe this is possible, you believe Mortensenís desperation, or rather the universal desperation and deprivation of all men in this dystopia. Everyone will do what they need to do to survive not out of desire, but only out of necessity. People cannot help their neighbors if they cannot help themselves first.
The moments between father and son never come off soaping or melodramatic. McPhee and Mortensen are absolutely convincing. The father even makes sure that his son knows how to commit suicide correctly without hurting himself or left alive. Itís such an uncompromising subject to handle or even discuss that Hillcoat does a fine job addressing it delicately.
To adapt a McCarthy novel one needs to simply follow the book. Like the Cohen Brothers, Hillcoat does not add his own twist or take on the book, he just translates the pages of the novel into the film, and he does a worthy job. The film feels authentic, thrilling, chilling, haunting, and nothing short of brilliant.
Some may have issues with the pacing, which is slow and wanders at times. However, itís necessary because the characters are wandering through the landscape. They are oblivious to whatís coming next just as much as we are and the pacing draws you in as the story unfolds. The Road is a faithful adaptation that delivers a gritty reality plagued with desperation, violence, and madness. But through the fog of hopelessness is a dim, glimmering light of hope and humanity shining from the love between father and son.