When you dream about bad things happening, it means you're still fighting and you're still alive. It's when you start to dream about good things that you should start to worry. – The Man
Ouch what a tough way to start the day. THE ROAD, which is based on Cormac McCarthy's (No Country for Old Men) 2006 Pulitzer prize-winning book, has to be one of the more morose and emotionally damaging flick that I have seen all year. Now I’ve never read the book, so apart from the misleading trailer, I went in there Zestfully clean, not really knowing what to expect. Maybe that’s why this celluloid uppercut crushed me into ashes, rolled me up and smoked me out to high heavens. I simply didn’t see it coming.
The trailers sold THE ROAD as a disaster movie cum action opus and I’m telling ya, it’s not THAT movie! Yes, it could’ve been a Mad Max-ish type tale if it wanted to be; all of the required elements were there: end of the world, good guys on one end and cannibal bad guys on the other but in a bold move, for better and for worse, the flick ducked that road (pun intended) and instead became an essay on the human condition and its fighting spirit. THE ROAD was a tragic and emotionally layered trip and then some! For me, it was about a man coping with his personal grief while striving to protect his son and retain his humanity in an inhumane world. It was also about scrounging hope within oneself to keep going out when in reality the cards read: there is no hope. It also commented on how futile one’s existence is without a goal, a direction if you will. At the end of the day, a man without a purpose is the shell of the man he could be. Finally, it was about a father and son striving to be just that, a father and son in the most appalling of circumstances. How's that for a full meal? Shit, I’m still digesting it. HEAVY!
It should be stabbed that it all wouldn’t have worked this well without the proper cast doing the doo. The father/son combo in this flick was the heart, and the driving force of the story. Thankfully I was in good hands here; Viggo Mortensen gave a multifaceted, intense and affecting performance. The dude commanded the screen and I was blown away as to how strong he was. Can Viggo do wrong? Not in my book (the fact that he's a die-hard Habs fan much like myself also help, he's not called THE MAN in this flick for nothing). His young co-star Kodi Smit-McPhee fared just as well. He was mucho convincing (although if I hear the word Papa one more time I’ll jump off a bridge) and shared a genuine chemistry with The Mortensen. The fact that I cared so much about this father and son unit made everything that happened around them kick my ass even harder. The handful of horror-ish scenarios this duo found themselves in had me biting my fingers off in anticipation. I wanted them to be safe so bad that every time an obstacle arose I’d sit up at the edge of my seat, totally involved, rooting for the best. That’s what I call well generated and effective suspense! Finally a film that understands that for that to happen you need fleshed out characters and credible relationships.
The look and setting of the film was a character in itself as well. Hillcoat’s visual style carried lots of impact in its nap sack (backed up by the cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe’s eye for dread – this was almost a black and white film) while the surrounding was threat incarnated. Constant rain, left field earthquakes, countless dead trees, decrepit buildings, bridges falling apart, ample sludge… damn… earth post disaster blows! Tag to that a moving score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, an sly ambiguity as to what happened to the world (vagueness was better than an answer), astounding supporting performances by the always reliable Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall (who reminded me with this tour de force showcase why he is so great) and some disturbing imagery that unsettled me to say the least and you get a powerful and thought provoking film that put me through the ringer and then some. Any complaints? Few but they need to be addressed. I craved more juice from the Mother, Father and son relationship before the fact. The subplot felt a tad rushed and if more developed it would’ve lent the Man’s present day turmoil and the tragic aura of what happened to his family added ammo.
The same went for the question of: should a child be allowed to be born when the world is hell. I was stimulated by the query but the film only glazed the matter as opposed to really getting into it. And was I alone in finding the product placement distracting? Granted people would eat Cheetos and drink Coke if they found it in this world – but for some one reason that I can’t really pin-point – it didn’t feel; organic…felt like… well obvious product placement. Maybe there was just too much of it. Finally, yeah I sometimes hoped that the film would run further with its horror/action elements. It would put them out there, snag me in with them… but then let go of me too soon. But maybe that’s just me. On the whole, THE ROAD was a courageous, poignant and back-handing film that didn’t leave me indifferent when coming out of the theaters. To be honest, after that sit down, I appreciated the world I live in, the people dear to me and what I have even more. The sign of a potent film. Walk down this road and hope to survive it!