Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Road (2009)

Viggo Mortensen gets naked again and, this time, there are cannibals.

Some movies are feel good movies. If they seem depressing, don't worry, they make sure you know that everything will be alright in the end, just wait. The Road is not this kind of movie. Sticking remarkably close to the source material, a Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road is a bleak and frank look at the best and worst parts of human nature. The film is about as a good as it can be, but most of the truly profound stuff is lost somewhere in the transition from book to film.

The Road is a surprisingly simple movie. It's the story of a man and his son, they don't have names, trying to get to the coast. It would be a lot easier if they didn't have to walk hundreds of miles through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. They spend their days dodging cannibals and scavenging for food and their nights huddled together as winter gets closer. The cast is full of solid performers, Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pierce, but most have only a tiny amount of time on screen. Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote No Country for Old Men, and directed by newcomer John Hillcoat, the movie stays exceptionally close to the book and this both helps and hinders the film as a whole.

While I try to stay away from analyzing novel adaptations against their source material, The Road demands a look to the book to figure out where some of the films missteps originated. While the film is generally effective, but it doesn't quite reach any of the powerful emotional notes that the book achieves. This is partly due to time and pace. For the sake of movie watching sanity, the film's pace is accelerated, but this gives us less time with our characters. This, coupled with the removal of some of the more tender moments between the man and his boy left me a little unimpressed with the emotional resonance of their relationship. The narration in the film never quite reaches the ironic, poetic, beauty that the book achieves. This is a major factor in what makes the book so interesting and powerful to read and it's missing from the film. I'm not saying that the movie needed more of the man's narration, just that it needed to compensate for it's removal.Other than these minor changes, I was pleasantly surprised by how closely the film followed the book. It's nice to see an novel adaptation where the director's whims don't entirely overshadow the source material.

Putting the book aside, The Road is a highly effective film, especially considering it is director John Hillcoat's major studio debut. He couldn't have asked for a better cast and whether or not they put the film on auto-pilot is irrelevant because everything turns out quite well. Viggo Mortensen is the definition of a committed actor and the whole film, luckily, rests on his competent shoulders. He carries the film admirably, but the highlights here are the people he encounters, even briefly, on the road. In particular, Robert Duvall owns the ten or fifteen minutes that he is on screen and I found that his character stuck with me the most. The film is also helped by some magnificent production design. From the barren grey wastes to the abandoned homes, the whole film is beautifully desolate. The look helps push the desperation level higher, keeping the story dramatic even when the action has died down.

The Road isn't going to make you feel good about yourself or the human race, but it will keep your interest. It's a brutally honest vision of a future that seems almost assured. A desolate, broken planet with the few surviving people doing anything they can to stay alive. It doesn't matter how this future will come about because it is coming. When the time comes, how will you survive?



The Mad Hatter said...

Nice review! I'm a big fan of the book myself, and thought they did probably as good a job adapting it as anybody could have done.

You're right, there's quite a bit of character nuance missing...but you're also right in noting including it all probably would have made the whole film run over three hours.

I thought the desperation was palpable, the depression tangible, and couldn't get over the stunning gloomy greyness of it all.

Caz said...

I really enjoyed reading your review, as I have not read the book. To to read a review from the point of view of someone who has read the book was good.