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Movie Review: The Road

Prinz Lee image

Prinz Lee wrote this review 5 years ago

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Written 11/27/09

Movies like 2012 wreck the world in front of our eyes through long pageants of explosions. The Road, however, deals with cataclysmic ruin in a far different and much more compelling manner. It follows the people who somehow survived the destruction of the cities demolished by overwhelming forces. Working from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), The Road never bothers to explain why a once content Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are heading down a road on foot pushing a shopping cart with their belongings. Neither is ever named, and their only goal is to find the ocean. Whatever happened destroyed modern communication. There’s no way of knowing if the devastation is local or global. The land is now infertile. Wherever the two go, they encounter dead trees and no visible animal life. The only edible food appears to be whatever was canned before the disaster hit. The Man and his Son are not exactly on their own. Any encounter they have with others could be dangerous. With nourishment scarce, gangs of cannibals are roaming all over the place.

McCarthy and playwright-screenwriter Joe Penhall create a convincing post-Doomsday scenario. Unlike a lot of recent films set in a dying world, there aren’t any working cell phones (both 2012 and The Sum of All Fears), and the Son has a tricky time opening a Coke can because he’s never seen one before. The scene is oddly touching because the now mundane act of drinking a soda seems like an exotic experience to the kid. Australian director John Hillcoat is an ideal choice for The Road. As with his previous film The Proposition, he has an appropriately grim tone, and his gritty approach to scenery is just right. Just as he made colonial Australia look grungy and almost uninhabitable in his previous film, he knows how to make the world he depicts in this film look both decayed and strangely beautiful. Mortensen has been almost cursed with the fact that his appealing features and buff build have made some viewers confuse the gifted actor with a matinee idol. That doesn’t happen here. Except for the pre-Armageddon flashback scenes that he shares with Charlize Theron, Mortensen always looks as if he’s been missing a meal or two and that bathing is a rare luxury. More importantly, he effortlessly runs through just about every possible emotion and still has enough screen presence to carry the film. Young Smit-McPhee manages to hold his own with the more seasoned pro, and the two have a believable chemistry. As they make their way to the sea, the Man and his Son have profound disagreements about what to do. The Son tries to help some of their fellow travelers, including an aging man named Eli (played with typical finesse by Robert Duvall). His father, however, looks on all strangers with understandable contempt. Considering that others might think that he and his child are potential meals, he may not be merely cynical.

Where 2012 features long passages where the characters dabble on about ethics during the end-of-the-days scenarios, the makers of The Road figure it might make for a better movie if the characters actually lived through the dilemmas instead wondering about them. Throughout the film, the question arises whether morality can exist when basic concepts like home and community no longer exist. Can someone consider himself above his peers if he kills or robs from them but doesn’t eat the bodies?

This film’s remarkably shot and expressed as I’m sure this is most definitely a piece that creates much debate about what life would be like in all aspects for those who go on to live in a post-apocalyptic world. If anything I find this piece to be draining in all aspects… emotionally, physically and mentally as it would smear layers of issues among man-kind and therefore can consider this a scary flick aside from it also being one of the best this year and no doubt there will be Oscar buzz on this. You’ll see!



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