Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce
Directed by John Hillcoat
Running time 111 minutes
The unthinkable happens to the World and a few survivors struggle to live in a barren and threatening post-apocalyptic landscape. A man (Viggo Mortensen) guides his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) through many dangers and horrors on a journey down “the road” to possibly somewhere or possibly nowhere.
“One of the most chillingly effective visions of the world’s end ever put on screen – and a heart-rending study of parenthood to boot.” Empire Magazine
“Drab, virtually plot-free and aridly pointless, this road doesn’t get anywhere.” Daily Mail
“What might be the feelbad film of the year makes an early but convincing claim to be the film of 2010.” Daily Mirror
To my shame the nearest I got to reading Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road was putting it on my book shelves where it still sits daring me to take it down. I will now for sure.
I went to see this film on a wet windy night with a touch of dread at the thought of spending an evening with such a depressing subject. There is of course and never could be anything cheery about the end of the world or the probable awfulness of the melt-down of our planet if all our abuses of it come back to hit us.
The cinema has been on a run of “let’s save the planet before it is too late” movies recently but mostly, including the visually thrilling Avatar, the message has been of the sentimentalised knee jerk reaction type but with The Road, here is a film with serious and uncompromising ambitions.
The post-cataclysmic landscape, shot mostly in Pennsylvania and Oregon, is leafless, in fact wildlife-less, with ruined, derelict city scapes and abandoned vehicles on deserted roads where everything is unforgivingly grey and dusty but lovingly shot in a film of unusual beauty. That is it, this film is a picture of ruination and desolation going on for ever and ever – or so it seems.
The lights in the middle of this waste land are the central and awe-inspiring performances from highly experienced Viggo Mortensen as the man and mostly totally inexperienced Kodi Smit-McPhee as his young son. For almost the entire duration of the film these two actors are on screen giving subtly intense performances never letting go of their grip on our nerves or our emotions. This is no schmaltzy feel-good, coming-of-age father and son affair, it goes right to the heart of the parent-child relationship in one of the most moving depictions of familial love I have ever seen on the screen.
This film is not just about man’s failure to sustain life on Earth and its direful consequences but it is also about profound, indestructible human qualities. Where there is geographical desolation, there is human love, where there is death and destruction, there is hope and joy. We are desperate for father and son to make it to the end of The Road even though we don’t know or don’t want to know where that might be. Hope on this road is not to be found on the horizon but in the heart.
All honour to the director John Hillcoat who, as in his excellent earlier film The Proposition, has shown himself to be a master of the poetic use of landscape to illustrate humanity’s struggle against harsh and threatening environments. In what could be a film with no action and no development, he sustains the tension to almost unbearable lengths allowing his actors such intimate close-ups that we are dared not to become fully immersed in the harrowing unfolding of their lives and their palpable but never over-played emotions.
Out of the intense world of the central trio, the two main actors and their landscape, step various skillfully drawn and movingly condensed performances from an outstanding cast of supporting actors. Robert Duvall has real depth as an old man who is no less movingly humane for his brutal grasp of reality. Guy Pearce, Molly Parker and, especially Charlize Theron too do much with their limited time on screen.
If this film, released in Britain this January but which had a limited release in the States last November, doesn’t pick up a crop of awards in 2010 (if it is fairly beaten by better films that is), then we are in for a bumper crop of great films this year. You will not forget this one, you need to see it.