- Rated R
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All photos © The Weinstein Co.
Reviewed by David Medsker
s premises go, it doesn’t get much bleaker than a father trying to protect his son from murderous cannibals in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (though the lead character in “Precious,” twice impregnated by her father, could give them some stiff competition). I have not read “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but if it’s as joyless and hopeless as its movie adaptation, then it is surely the most horrifying book ever written. (My wife’s one-word review: “Dismal.”) Joylessness, of course, can be a good thing, if handled properly. Here, however, it’s joylessness with no emotional impact, sad for the sake of being sad.
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee are the nameless father and son. (The boy’s mother, played by Charlize Theron, committed suicide years ago and is only seen in flashback.) The world is dead following an unexplained disaster, and the two head south knowing that they can’t survive another winter up north. The father keeps a gun with two bullets as a “way out” in the event they are captured by one of the roaming bands of redneck cannibals. Father tells the son that they are the good guys, but his actions sometimes blur the distinction between what’s good and what’s best for their survival when it comes to dealing with strangers. He’s also coughing up blood.
To the movie’s credit, it’s not nearly as insufferable as one might think given the subject matter. However, it’s not emotionally involving, either. It just trudges along, much like its characters. Their lives are miserable, and they’re not going to get better, whether they’re the good guys or not. There is a good message at the core – try to be good even when it would be much easier to be bad – but does it really take a world of cannibalism, misery and death in order to get that message across?
Props to Mortensen for choosing an anti-hero role like this, a character as far removed from Aragorn as possible, but he doesn’t do “weak” very well. He seems to be shooting for determined yet vulnerable, but it comes across as mental instability, and you start wondering if he’s hurting his son more than he’s helping him. Theron spends a lot of time sleeping in the sun during the flashbacks, and while the movie paints her as cold and uncaring, it’s hard to argue with her decision to choose death over their hell-on-earth life. Director John Hillcoat definitely captures the bleakness of the source material from a visual perspective though, washing everything in gray and black.
One critic has already declared “The Road” to be “the most important film of the year.” I have no idea what that means. What, exactly, is so important about it? That it forces people to contemplate the impossible choice between starvation and cannibalism? That it makes you think about whether you’re strong enough to kill your children before they’re harvested for food? If the idea was to capture the sheer hopelessness of their situation, then mission accomplished, but who wants to share that experience? Hell, Jigsaw’s victims in the “Saw” movies have more hope than the father and son here. “The Road” is a competent adaptation of an unspeakable premise, but important, or essential viewing, it’s not, especially during the holidays. Take those two hours of your life and do something positive with them.