The Road

2010-02-08 14:45
The Road

What it's about:

A father (Viggo Mortenson) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) walk through the blasted, icy landscape of post-apocalyptic America on their way to the coast. On their journey, they meet other survivors – some good, some downright horrific – who test their ability to keep hold of their humanity.

What we thought:

Post-apocalyptic movies are an odd genre. Usually wedged somewhere between science-fiction and disaster flicks, they take the premise of a world gone to hell in a handbasket and layer more familiar stories on top of it – with mixed results. Sometimes you get a top-notch zombie thriller (28 Days Later) and sometimes not (the god-awful I Am Legend). You might get a great action movie (The Road Warrior) or you might get a stinker (The Postman). The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning novel, takes a different tack. It strips away all of these distracting plot devices to concentrate on the underlying psychological issue: when the rule of law breaks down, men behave like animals – or worse.

The plot of The Road really is that simple: a father and son need to survive long enough to reach the coast, at which point surviving may or may not become easier. On their odyssey, though, they find themselves relentlessly tested by questions of trust and goodness. The land is plagued by marauding bands of cannibals – could you shoot your 10-year-old son in the head, rather than let him fall into their hands? A thief steals to survive – can you consign him to death by stealing back from him? They are terrible, weighty questions that slowly chip away at the sense of decency and humanity cherished by Viggo Mortenson's character of The Man. As he tells his son, "I will kill anyone who touches you. Because that's my job." His only glimmer of light is the naïve trust of The Boy – a quality that The Man has to alternately try to beat out of him and nurture.

Mortenson is superb as a man who once used optimism to keep his family together – heartbreaking fragments of life with his wife, played by Charlize Theron, appear in his dreams and musings – but who now struggles to find the compassion just to feed an old man. These battles of conscience play out in every grimy line on his face. It's a mesmerising performance. His desperate co-dependence on his son is perfectly matched by Kodi Smit-McPhee, a youngster born after the apocalypse (never fully explained) who knows no other world. When they find a stash of goods and the boy witnesses his father undertake the mystifying actions of smoking a cigarette and taking a slug of Jack Daniel's, The Man says to his son, "You think I'm from another world, don't you?" The boy mutely nods – and it's true, he is.

The film is undeniably, depressingly, suffocatingly bleak – if you've seen Fernando Meirelles's adaptation of Blindness, you'll have an idea of the atmosphere of The Road. And yet throughout, essentially, there remains a spark of hope. Like when The Boy experiences a can of Coke for the first time, the film returns to the moments of innocence and rare pleasure that lighten our burden of existence and justify our humanity.

Whether these moments of relief are enough to make watching this film an enjoyable experience depends entirely on the temperament of the viewer. What is guaranteed, though, is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of a deeply powerful book, and a film full of images and exchanges that linger long after we've returned to civilisation.

A post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son trying to survive by any means possible.

Andrew 2010/02/08 2:40 PM
I watched this on opening night and it was beyond depressing. Apart from that, it also seemed to drag on a bit too long.
gvz 2010/02/09 8:42 AM
The fact that you thought 28 days later was good and I am Legend not immediately disqualify you from having an opinion. I seriously hope this is not your full time profession....
Nello 2010/02/09 8:50 AM
I have to agree with gvz. "I am Legend" was brilliant. While "The Postman" wasn't Oscar material it was good entertainment. I was looking forward to seeing "The Road" but think I'll wait for the DVD release. Thank you for your generic insight into this movie and others like it.
Rene 2010/02/09 8:57 AM
I am Legend = load of bollocks. Much preferred 28 days later. Intriguing review, but think will wait for DVD if this is comparable to Blindness. That film made me want to kill myself :(
Cin 2010/02/09 9:30 AM
I'm with gvz and Nello... I am Legend beat the living sh!t outta 28 Days. I too hope that you have alternative means of income, clearly reviews are not your forte.
Tiger Woods 2010/02/09 10:29 AM
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I have to agree with gvz and Nello. "I am Legeng" is a great movie. And Rene, if the urge comes back again, do it...
Bryan 2010/02/09 10:49 AM
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I thought 'The Road' was excellent. Like McCarthy's 'No Country for Old Men', this movie illustrates how quickly ‘civilized’ people succumb to the darker bestial aspects of humanity and how a few good individuals try to make sense out of a senseless world.
wiledog 2010/02/09 10:58 AM
28 Days Later, in the post-apocalyptic zombie genre stands out as one of the genre-defining films, much better then I Am Legend. looking forward to this movie.
Toy 2010/02/09 12:23 PM
Why is Nu Metro only showing it at 4 cinemas?! I live in nelspruit and I would love to see this movie! My fave book of all time! C'mon Nu Metro get with the program and take all the kak thats been showing since November last year off
Waynegayle 2010/02/09 3:02 PM
Terrible, slow, depressing.... not even worth a DVD rental
Banana 2010/02/09 3:24 PM
I thought both I am Legend and 28 Days Later were very good...this film does look depressing though...might wait for DVD!
Clint 2010/02/10 9:16 AM
i don't understand the point of movie critics? I mean its all a matter of opinion. One man's trash is anothers gold so, really I think movie critics really ought to be done away with. I will keep my opinion of 28 Days, I am Legend and The Road to myself....Really if you don't like it then you know not to buy the DVD, skip it when it comes on TV and at least if went to see it at the cinemas, it got you out of the house for a while.
Pietman 2010/11/11 7:38 AM
The Postman and I AM Legend are both very good movies... perhaps this critic should stay with films like " The Prince and Me" or " Princess diaries" or beter yet... " My little pony". Post Ap. movies are usually "thinker's films" with alot more going on during the film than just the main story...I agree with GVZ
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