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Film Review: The Road
a review by Anthony J. Langford
The Road has been a long time coming. It was shot in 2007. I don't know the reason for the delay, perhaps executives got tetchy when they realised there was no Mad Max style battle scenes. Saying that The Road is bleak, is like saying Grease is a musical. Of course it is. Did you think the end of the world wouldn't be?. The film, conscientiously based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, doesn't pull any punches. It drags us back, almost to the Dark Ages, back to the basics. Without adequate food and clothing, most people will resort to anything to survive. While others will simply give up.
The father and his son walk the freeways and forest trails, searching, always searching for food and perhaps a little bit of hope. But there are no options anymore. Gradually the old world falls away. For the boy, that old world is a distant, foreign place. Survival is not merely a battle, its a curse. He struggles to understand it. The father is caught between wanting to shield his son against the cruelty he knows exists and giving him the knowledge he needs to survive. His son is now his world, yet try as he might, he cannot escape his memories.
Viggo Mortenson holds this film together with an astounding performance, understated, minimalistic, but always captivating. The boy, Kodi Smit-McPhee also shines. His innocence is our link to this frightening universe as he struggles to understand what is happening around him.
John Hillcoat (The Proposition) proves once again, that he is a dynamic director, keeping faithful to the novel by concentrating on the relationship between father and son and not on the devastated moon like landscape and broken highways. As depressing as it is, there is a tenderness, which makes those personal moments all the more poignant. There are some wonderful cameos too, particularly by veteran Robert Duvall.
The only aspect that lets The Road down, and I never thought I would say this, is the music score of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The two collaborated brilliantly on Hillcoat's last film, and both have had outstanding careers, but here they go for the obvious heartstrings in true Hollywood form. It's like being whacked over the head with a piano. At times the score does help to elevate a particular mood and is at its best when its subtle, but when that mood is predominately a downbeat one, we don't need to be so clearly prompted.
Aside from this, The Road is a film of intense detail. It is a difficult film to watch but unlike any other post apocalyptic films before it, concentrates on humanity rather than plot, realism rather than spectacle. It was an oversight, if not shameful, not to acknowledge it at this year's Oscars.