Review: The Road

The Road | John Hillcoat, 2009

Prior to reading the novel that inspired this movie, I had never read any book by Cormac McCarthy. And to my surprise it was unlike any book I had read before. It mostly focused on describing what was going on and the little dialogue there was was not put in quotes. This made both elements blend together to create something that would envelop you when you are reading that puts you in the middle of what the  man and his son are going through. It would be hard for a movie to do the same thing. But if it did, it would be something to behold, but there was more room for failure. John Hillcoat’s take on McCarthy’s “The Road” had what it takes, but ultimately it failed to live up to the potential set by the book and the talent involved.

In The Road, civilization has ended. There are no more animal left, trees, or what’s left of them, burn every night, and the people who are still alive are either struggling to survive or in gangs, hunting others and eating them. The story follows and man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smith-McPhee) and they are trying to make their way to the south in hopes to find warmer climate, as winters are getting extremely cold. Like everyone else, they struggle with trying to find something to eat, find a safe place to sleep, and to stay away from the gangs of cannibals. Also, the man is dying, and he is trying to prepare his son for when the time comes for him to be on his own. There are also flashbacks to happier times and when the world started to burn, these features the man’s wife (Charlize Theron).

When I say that the movie didn’t live up to its potential I don’t mean that it is a bad movie. What I mean is that this could have been a masterpiece, but there are things that prevent it from doing so, such as the direction and the script. I bet Joe Penhal did the best he could translating McCarthy’s prose, but there is something about it that just doesn’t feel right. I guess I’m blaming him for not being as good as McCarthy, but there aren’t many out there that are. John Hillcoat did overall a good job, but my problem with this work is that it felt too normal. I had expected something along the lines of Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, at least in terms of style and atmosphere.

Part of the reason why I did not like the atmosphere is Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography. I know it is supposed to be dark and grey, but it was way too dark, almost to the point where at least I couldn’t see what was happening. Someone like Bruno Delbonnel or Dariusz Wolski would have been a better choice. Besides that, everything on the technical front is top notch. The set design, the makeup, the costumes are everything I envisioned while reading the novel. Also Nick Cave and Warren Ellis deliver yet another great score, although I did not quite like the music that played whenever they were running from danger.

Another thing that is as I envisioned is the performances (or at least most of the performances). Viggo Mortensen delivers a fantastic performance as the man. Yet another name that should have replaced Morgan Freeman as an Oscar nominee. Kodi Smith-McPhee is good, but he doesn’t quite got it. He was more annoying than they way it was portrayed in the book, and when he delivers his line in the end about carrying the fire, I cringed. Another performance worth mentioning is Robetrt Duvall’s. He plays the blind old man that the man encounters on the road. He just knocks it out of the park with this. It is one of the few moments of warmth in this cold story. Too bad the scene didn’t play out to where the man was also good towards the old man.

The Road has a lot of good things going for it. However, not all of those mesh together real well, so the result is a movie that only manages to stand above the other movies of its kind from the last few years, and that’s not saying much.

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