Should I Watch..? 'The Road'
What's the big deal?
The Road is a post-apocalyptic drama film released in 2009 and is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. The film stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and son trekking through what's left of rural America after a global extinction event. The film has become noted for its stark beauty, shooting in abandoned and derelict areas instead of a reliance on CG as well as the performances of its cast. Despite a largely positive critical response, the film made just $27.6 million worldwide - barely recouping its estimated $25 million budget - though it should be noted that the film was released in a limited number of cinemas.
What's it about?
Some years after an unspecified cataclysm wiped out almost all life on Earth, a man and his young son are struggling to survive alone in the wasteland. Attempting to journey south to the coast to avoid a potentially fatal winter, the pair end up scavenging what they can whilst on the run from numerous gangs of marauders and cannibals. All they have for protection is a gun with two bullets which the man claims are for themselves if the worst happens.
Haunted by memories of his wife who committed suicide not long after the boy's birth due to the apocalypse, the man leads his son through the wilderness while trying to disguise his own failing health. But as the pair get closer to their destination, what hope is left that they will find what they are looking for?
Joe Penhall *
Release Date (UK)
8th January, 2010
Adventure, Drama, Horror
What's to like?
I admit that I am somewhat conflicted about this movie. It might be a little earnest and Academy-friendly (not that it picked up any Oscar nominations come awards season) but in spite of the film's oppressive bleakness, there is much to admire here. First and foremost, the film looks spectacular - blackened fields, crumbling buildings and abandoned highways provide an incredibly immersive backdrop for our two heroes to trudge through. It is all too easy to picture the end of civilisation when it's as convincing as it is seen in The Road. The location scouts of The Walking Dead must have had a field day with this movie.
Amid the devastation, Mortensen and Smit-McPhee provide a desperately heroic last stand in the face of overwhelming odds. Mortensen revives the same steely authority he brought to the role of Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings trilogy but his younger co-star matches him as the bewildered child who has never known life before the apocalypse. His reaction to drinking a can of Coke, something we all take for granted, is both heart-warming and gut-wrenching because it underscores the gravity of their surroundings. This is a film with next to nothing in the way of relief - imagine The Shawshank Redemption but Andy Dufresne walking to an electric chair instead.
Much-needed Fun Facts
- To help him get into the role, Mortensen would sleep in his clothes and starved himself to lose weight. He was thrown out of a shop in Pittsburgh after he was mistaken for a vagrant.
- It took a phone-call from Mortensen to the President of Coca-Cola to secure the rights to use the drink in the movie. Hillcoat filmed the scene several times with a different drink in case they failed to get permission but the brand appears in the film, as it does in the original book.
- Hillcoat shot a scene involving a baby being roasted on a spit over a campfire but ultimately cut it because he felt that would have been too much. Can't say I disagree...
What's not to like?
The Road, for all its bleak beauty and quality cast, is a difficult film to recommend because it is just too much. This is a film without a glimmer of joy in it, a depressing exercise on punishing its cast with intolerable conditions and its audience with a story that never really seems to go anyway. It doesn't even work as an allegory - I'm far too thick to work it out myself but I can't find anything that explains what the film or the book is actually about. It's just two survivors moving from one grim episode to the next, reminding us all how lucky we actually are.
In fact, the film is so devoid of anything memorable apart from how it looks that you come away thinking that the film is boring. It isn't - it captures your attention from the beginning and holds you tight, making you genuinely fear for these people. But I can't imagine who the film is for aside from militant environmentalists convinced that this is a documentary in disguise. It's a well-made and well-acted piece but I couldn't say I enjoyed it by the time relief finally came when the end credits started to roll, complete with the sound of children laughing which gives the ending a faintly sinister feel.
Should I watch it?
It is not what I'd call entertaining or even life-affirming but The Road remains a well-crafted and well-performed piece. The journey to the film's climax (if you can call it that) is an arduous test of how much misery you can absorb as a viewer and I know plenty of people who will hate this, calling it slow and boring. In spite of that, the film is a decent adaptation of the source material but I find myself wondering exactly what it is in the novel that someone thought would make a great cinematic experience. Grand and unspeakably bleak, this is an example of a film brilliantly made but not with you in mind.
Great For: environmentalists, fans of The Walking Dead, lovers of the original book, inspiring debate
Not So Great For: date nights, anyone expecting something exciting, anyone who has never read the book
What else should I watch?
Few films tackle the end of the world with as much stony-faced gravitas as The Road does. Armageddon may be devoid of human civilisation but at least action fans can still get their kicks with Mad Max while horror fans can fight undead hordes with George Romero's iconic Night Of The Living Dead. Sci-fi is a perfect genre for a post-apocalyptic setting - check out I Am Legend, a modern updating on the Vincent Price classic The Last Man On Earth or for something a little different, Maggie sees a rare dramatic performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger as a man struggling to care for his soon-to-be-a-zombie daughter.
Probably the film I think is closest to this is an obscure Canadian drama called Last Night which sees a number of unrelated characters handle the unbearable scenario of life on Earth being wiped out at precisely midnight in twelve hours time. Their reactions vary wildly from one guy making his way through a sexual bucket list to a loner interrupted by a woman struggling to cross town to be with her husband. Like The Road, it is thought-provoking and depressingly bleak but well acted and written.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox