Monday, December 7, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Road

The Road
Directed by John Hillcoat
Released November 25, 2009

Post-apocalyptic subject matter is usually harrowing, bleak, and intensive in the gloomy journey it undertakes. This adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel certainly fits that bill, and its characters trudge through an eternally gray, dreary landscape with no real aim other than to stay together and to survive. Becoming a part of the dismal experience is easy, though it’s not as clear whether this road actually leads anywhere.

“The Road” follows two survivors of a devastating worldwide catastrophe as they struggle for their lives, fighting off hunger, winter, and murderous gangs who comb the countryside looking for helpless prey. The film joins their journey well into it, and it’s evident that the road has wearied these two travelers. They stare at their emaciated bodies and salivate at the mere mention of food. They know that their endless path may truly have no end, and they may wander until they simply can’t move another step or they have nowhere else to go. The title is a perfect way to describe what now defines their lives: the road to something else, even if it’s only tomorrow.

There’s an incredible timelessness in “The Road.” The lack of technology used or displayed signifies that, though it is likely set sometime in today’s near future, it could easily have happened at any point. Bomb shelters have not lost their relevance or importance, and it’s still a matter of staying smart and one step ahead of everyone else that will ensure, or at least prolong, survival. The two protagonists, a father and son referred to as Man (Viggo Mortensen) and Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), are the center of the story rather than the gangs who ride ominously down the remnants of what used to be streets in slow-moving trucks because their ability to stay alive is just as strong as those who travel in packs. Man knows what he needs to do in order to survive, and he has something the gangs don’t: family.

Both lead actors are more than up to the task of burrowing themselves in their nameless roles. Mortensen has the hardened look and sharp eyes of someone who never actually lets him guard down, and his quiet severity makes Man a fiercely protective parent. Young Smit-McPhee is extremely impressive, and conveys how much the tragedy in this world has forced him to grow up at a monstrously accelerated pace. It’s their acceptance of the reality around them that makes the film believable, and the desire to see them triumph that makes their journey compelling. A strong score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis accompanies and guides Man and Boy through their trip along the road, and the gray visuals serve to trap audiences in the experience. The road is a frightening one where Man and Boy are alone in so many ways, yet always far too close to danger. Where the movie disappoints is in its lack of an essential climax. Since the story is about the road, it seems the destination isn’t as important.


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