Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Road (2009)

The Road is the story of a road which is traveled by a father and son whose goal is to survive the road. Sounds easy enough I guess. What's so dangerous about a road anyway? Well, we learn early on that some sort of cataclysmic event occurred that destroyed civilization. We don't know what occurred and it's never really mentioned, only hinted at. Aliens? Meteor? War? Neutrinos from the sun melting the earth's core causing the crust to surf on the lava is my assumption based on the earthquakes. The picture is based on the novel of the same name written by Cormac McCarthy and endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. So, before we even watch this we can probably guess that this won't be your father's post apocalypse. No gangs of raving mad punk rockers, no talking dogs, no big, or even medium sized, action sequences, etc.

I'm always eager to see how a book I love (and I loved The Road) is adapted for the big screen. This one worried me a little bit. I mean, the trailer focused on disaster footage. Almost looked I Am Legend-ish which wouldn't be right for this picture. I had faith in John Hilcoat (directed the McCarthy-esque The Proposition) and Viggo Mortensen to get it right. They pretty much did. The movie is pretty minimalist. We got snippets of McCarthy's prose (in voice over form), we got heart ache, we got struggles to survive, and even a few tense situations (although these don't really define the picture). Oh, and bleak shit. Lots and lots of bleak shit.

The movie centers around the father (Viggo) and the son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). See, the son was born after the world ended. He knows nothing else. The father has two objectives. To teach his son how to survive after he is gone and also to protect him while he still lives. They head for the coast. It seems like a good idea. Along the way they scavenge for food, avoid contact with other people (most of whom will just try to eat them anyway), and stay warm. The world, meanwhile, continues to die. Earthquakes cause dead trees to fall. Fires burn the hills. All wildlife is pretty much extinct, excepting the occasional cricket which get eaten by the father and son.

I appreciated the washed out look of the thing. The performances by Mortensen and Smit-McPhee were very good. The people they meet on the road were all performed admirably by actors such as Robert Duvall, Garrett Dilahunt, Michael K. Williams (particularly heart wrenching), Guy Pearce, etc. The Nick Cave/Warren Ellis score is suitably minimalist, though not quite on par with work they did for The Proposition or The Assassination of Jesse James. There is a lot to admire here. It's nice to see an end of the world picture actually make things look shitty. I'm not sure it'd be a roller coaster action adventure (like in 2012). People would die. Horribly. Slowly. Governments would fall. Teeth would rot. Suicide rates would skyrocket. Cannibalism. Rape. All that shit. This picture, along with Testament and Time of the Wolf before it, seem to have a clue as to what this type of world would be like.

I guess the question is "Ok, all fair and good, but why do I need to see this shit?" Simple answer. You don't. Despite the Oprah recommendation this material probably ain't for everyone. I have a morbid curiosity. And, despite most of the shit I watch and write about, have a desire to see quality pictures from time to time. And, there is a little bit of hope to be found here (actually, there's a lot when you consider the obstacles these characters are facing). Sure, this world is a shitty place to live and it likely won't get any better. Sure, there's a scene where the father instructs his son the fine art of blowing out your own brains (they have two bullets left, one for each of them - better than being cannibalized), sure, there are horrors pretty much every where they go, etc. I don't know, if amidst all this shit people can still manage to do good to one another (i.e. "carry the fire"), then maybe there is hope for us. There will always be bad guys but the movie also makes a point to note that there will always be good guys too.

And don't be put off by the Charlize Theron part. She appears only in flashback. She's very good and her scenes work. We understand her decision not to continue on. There are several dreams the father has of sunnier times (fingering wife at a concert, waking up after a night of sex in a car, etc) which he awakens from as if he's just had a nightmare only to realize oh wait, I'm living the nightmare. The nightmare is that shit's all gone. These additions are almost necessary to keep the movie from being dragged down in bleakness.

I don't know what else to say except it's a good movie but probably not as great as I'd hoped it would be. Perhaps the book is not very adaptable. Or, Perhaps I liked it too much. Viggo Mortensen gives an oscar caliber performance. The end is incredibly moving, Guy Pearce shows up to lighten things up with the one little bit of humor the picture allows at the end. Which I think is also a moment where the viewer is supposed to think oh wait, that guy said something funny, maybe they're not completely fucked? There's some scary shit in a farm house basement. The kid tries to feed everybody they meet and make his father give them back their clothes after he steals them. I'm not sure I'd label this thing as "oscar bait" like I've heard some mention. I mean, what about this thing screams "oscar"? The cannibalism. The child murders. The rape? The fact that the death of the world is being depicted with relentless realism? Well, with the expansion to 10 best picture nominees I guess it's a possibility. If you enjoyed Testament or Time of the Wolf than you will probably enjoy this one too. Which is to say you're a fucked up individual for having enjoyed them.

1 comment:

Gianni said...

The book is fantastic (But bleak) and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it adapted. I'll see Michael K Wiliams (The Wire) and Garrett Dillahunt (Terminator: TSCC) in anything at this point, and Viggo never disappoints.