By Don Simpson | November 16, 2009
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer(s): Cormac McCarthy (novel), Joe Penhall (screenplay)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron
The world exists only in various shades of gray after an unexplained calamity many years ago. This is a world without a biosphere; deplete of vegetation, animal life, natural resources (fuel), and food. Only some humans remain, aimlessly wandering the abandoned roads on a path towards imminent death. Humans are facing extinction via starvation – some resort to cannibalism, but they are only extending the torture. Truly a manifestation of hell on earth the humans are being punished for their plentitude of ecological sins.
Knowing that they cannot survive another winter in their present location, a protective father (Viggo Mortensen) leads his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) east across the bleak ash-covered landscape towards the ocean in the hopes of eventually heading south. The boy’s mother (Charlize Theron), whom we see in various flashbacks, committed suicide sometime after the catastrophe but before they commenced their journey.
The father’s sole purpose in life is to protect his son from cannibals and starvation. His hand is rarely left unclenched to his handgun – in which only two bullets remain to be used either for protection or joint-suicide, whichever comes first. The boy maintains a naïve, yet good-intentioned, desire to assist the other wanderers they come across. The man and his son are “each the other’s world entire.”
The father maintains, what he deems as false pretenses for his son’s sake, that good people (who are “carrying the fire”) still exist and there is hope for survivals. The boy’s faith in humanity is real and unflinching despite the many horrors they witness – he sees good in everyone, even the bad guys – and he does not believe that his father should harm, let alone kill, others even if for their own protection. The boy, via his own sense of hope and goodness, is humankind’s (and Earth’s) only chance for survival.
Faithfully adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel which was featured on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, The Road may sound like a post-apocalyptic thriller along the lines of Children of Men or 28 Days Later but director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) has essentially created an anti-thriller about a father’s unwavering love for his son.
The sparseness of The Road makes it truly an actors’ film, dependent solely upon two actors monopolizing all of the screen-time: Mortensen and Smit-McPhee. Mortensen – who has given some of the greatest performances of this decade (Lord of the Rings trilogy, History of Violence, Eastern Promises) – is impeccable as the doting father. Smit-McPhee – who will be playing Owen in Matt Reeves remake of Let Me In – matches Mortensen step-for-step.
Aside from some shameless (albeit ironic) product placements, The Road does not waiver from its grim tone or damning intentions. This is no Hollywood blockbuster – the pitch-perfect pacing is not for everyone, as the film truly meanders down a road less traveled.