The fast-paced, action packed trailer
for The Road misrepresented the final film entirely. It is not without thrills, but they are not cheap thrills, they are brought about by a genuine concern for the wellbeing of the characters, they are expertly crafted thrills and oftentimes truly unsettling. The Road is very definitely not the action movie the trailer would have you believe, and that’s a very good thing, not only for fans of Cormac McCarthy’s original novel, but for casual filmgoers as well. The film opens with shots of flowers and foliage in dappled sunlight, it’s a flashback, and the sequence makes for an especially jarring transition to the present day world of The Road.
The film focuses intently on the relationship between an inseparably close father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit McPhee), as the pair traverse the desolate landscape of a post-apocalyptic America. The environment in which they live is a harsh and cruel one, most of what is not burning is already ashes, the corpses of the millions that died are all about them, and the people that have managed to survive are not to be trusted. They come across other people on their journey and almost all are hostile: they are desperate thieves, paranoid aggressors or merciless cannibals. On top of this the man and his boy must hunt for food (often no more than bugs) and shelter (almost always abandoned vehicles). Memories of the life that they had before punctuate the bleak present, with the role of Charlize Theron’s mother expanded and made more sympathetic than in the source. Experiencing all this, the relationship that the unnamed man and his son have is horrendously warped– the man is not only committed to caring for his son, but is also forced to make him contemplate suicide in the event that a fate worse than death should present itself.
Director John Hillcoat has ensured that this terrifying world feels authentic, using the volcanic soil of Mt St Helens in Oregon and the devastated streets of New Orleans, and drawing incredible performances from his actors. The filmmakers tried hard to emulate the McCarthy’s prose style, with sparse dialogue, detailed, evocative environments and a narrative ambiguity that encourages the audience to answer questions that the film does not address, as well as allowing for viewers’ personal reading of the story.
Our Grade: B+