After more than a year of pushed back release dates, and The Weinsteins acting a damn fool, I finally had the opportunity to see The Road. Perhaps it’s that I built up the film so much in my head, but it was kind of a disappointment.
The film had much going for it. Viggo Mortensen is a fantastic and interesting actor. It’s based on a Pulitzer prize winning book by Cormac McCarthy. It was adapted by Joe Penhall. And it was directed by the solid Aussie director John Hillcoat. So where did all of this go slightly wrong? I don’t know.
The film follows a father and son who remain unnamed, just as they did in the book. An unidentified catastrophic disaster has killed most of the world’s population, and thrust the earth into, what seems to be, a nuclear winter. Although the film is fraught with flashbacks, the actual time is about seven years after the major incident. The father and son are traveling south, with hopes of finding something promising at the sea.
Mortensen plays the father with all the skill he holds, which is considerable. The portrait he paints of a dying man, in a dying world, hoping to be able to protect his son until the very last possible moment is nothing short of heart wrenching. The son, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee is also fantastic (although every trailer made promised he couldn’t act). The cinematography is splendid. Bleak, but so fully encompassing, one can’t help but be sucked into this dead, and mysterious world.
As in the book, the post-apocalyptic world is populated by those who have resulted to cannibalism to survive. The father is constantly telling the son to seek out ‘the good guys’ and avoid ‘the bad guys.’ He tells the boy that they are carrying the fire, and need to find others that are carrying it too. It’s these semi-sentimental moments that will both endear you, and horrify you as they seem so real and possible.
Unfortunately, there are a few things working against The Road. And generally, they seem to be things that, while The Weinsteins shelved the release, were added after production had been completed. Charlize Theron plays the mother of the son. A mother who opted to commit suicide instead of face such a bleak world. She fought to take her son with her, but the father objected. While the mother makes a brief appearance in the book, she is virtually unimportant. The film, apparently in an attempt to make the subject lighter, features several flashbacks, providing Ms. Theron with more screen time, as well as some scenes that features smiles, laughter, and colors out side of the spectrum of gray, and more gray. A voice over was added, featuring some of the father’s more intimate thoughts concerning the boy, which detract from the mood and flow of the film.
I had the opportunity to read the original version of the shooting script long before the film was released. And if (and I’m not sure who to blame here), they had just stuck to that script, the film would have been much better off. It was a much closer adaptation of book. The book worked so well because of its singular focus of a simple relationship between a father and son, in a very complicated world. The film spent more time focusing on ensuing cannibals (which, I’ll admit, did lend itself to some very effective, and genuinely terrifying moments), than it did contemplating the basic nature of humanity which is at the very root of this story.
While The Road is truely a good film, it could have been fantastic. Or a masterpiece. However, it fails to break any boundaries or usual art house expectations.