Even through the worst of times, the bond between loved ones can provide hope when little exist. Some mysterious disaster has left America a desolate wasteland. It’s assumed that many humans have died, and those that are still around struggle to find food, warmth, and safety.
A “Man” (Viggo Mortensen), and his “Boy” (Kodi Smit-McPhee), wander what’s left of America in search of those vitals. Contending with the harsh environment is terrible enough, but having to be on watch constantly for cannibals only exacerbates matters. Their goal is to get to the coast where warmer weather and a potentially better living exists. But, The Road to it will be fraught with peril.
Think The Last of Us (that 2013 game inspired by this film) mashed with Fallout (without the Super Mutants), and what you get is The Road, adapted from the novel written by Cormac McCarthy. Like one of his other novels also adopted into film in No Country for Old Men, McCarthy’s stories are generally dark and brooding. The Road is no different, perhaps darker, than NCFOM.
Here, darker is both literal and figurative. Director John Hillcoat does an amazing job with crafting a world that just feels empty and void of anything. There’s nothing to be found but cold greys, rustic browns, and pitch blacks. It’s a depressing, but of course fitting, color palette for a depressing movie.
This is a world that one wouldn’t wish on anyone. Hillcoat delivers some standout scenes that are very uneasy to watch, even on repeated viewings (actually had to turn my head away once or twice on this most recent one). Make no mistake, The Road can be draining to watch, especially as the story, while existent, is awfully skim when examined. By most accounts, according to those who’ve read the novel (as claimed on message boards), this is where the film adaption is a little lacking. Additionally, those looking for some explanation as to what truly happened for the world to become how it is depicted, or why exactly it is so important that our heroes make it to the coast, will not find such a thing. That isn’t the story Hillcoat or McCarthy are trying to tell.
The story that is being told is a basic one, that of a father and son’s love for one another, one of the only few good and pure things in an otherwise bad world. This post-apocalyptic tale boats a strong cast, with names like Charlize Theron, Michael K. Williams, Guy Pearce, and Robert Duvall. They are all great, but can be seen as extended cameos; I don’t believe that any of their characters has more than five minutes of screentime.
The Road belongs to Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The two are realistic together and make the movie work, even in its super slow moments, because they are so good. Mortensen in particular does a wonderful job of just being a dad who wants to protect his son, in the best way possible. Many kids in the role Smit-Mcphee plays could come off as annoying or worthless, but McPhee stands alongside Mortensen comfortably. At the heart of it, at least to yours truly, neither character is all that fleshed out. But, The Boy has some real powerful moments in which he’s trying to make sense of a hellish scenario, and why his father does what he does.
The Road (to Hell) is paved with people with bad intentions. The grim nature of everything will be too much for some, and it can at times feel somewhat aimless, like walking around with no direction. But with two anchoring lead performances and a sound direction, there is good to be found, even if it takes a long while to show.
Photo credits go to imdb.com, aceshowbiz.com, comingsoon.net, and superiorpics.com.
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