Review: The Road
ROB BROWN thinks The Road could be the best film of the year but RACHEL MONTE isn’t so sure.
The Road, 111 min.
Having only just got over the horror that was Avatar (predicted to this week overtake Titanic as the number one grossing movie of all time), via a little wham-bam-thank-you-mam Guy Ritchie classic bashing, I ventured back into the cinema with rock-bottom hopes and sights set low. Luckily, I chose to go see The Road; the perfect flashy-but-empty blockbuster antidote. Take note James “arsehole” Cameron, you don’t need much plot, you don’t need flashy dialogue or wacky characters, but what you do need is a sense of empathy, a plot that develops your characters and builds logically – scene upon scene – throughout the movie and most importantly human (not motherfucking giant smurf) emotions.
I can honestly say there have been only two films in my life I’ve struggled to sit through because they were so fucking emotionally draining. That may sound like I’m a heartless bastard but in this case I mean truly, heartbreakingly moving. (I’m actually a massive softie.) The Road certainly managed to plunge me into such a bottomless pit of sad. This may sound like a bad thing but trust me it’s not. While the film is unremittingly bleak, it’s still highly rewarding.
An adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy book of the same title – which you’ll all pretend to have read, you hypocritical, pseudo-upper class, daddy-never-loved-me phony bastards – this film is probably one of the best book adaptations I’ve seen. And yes that does count Steven King novellas. Ahuh, that’s right Shawshank Redemption, isn’t the best film ever. You prick. The plot follows a man’s struggles to keep his young son alive whilst journeying to the sea through a stark post-apocalyptic world, encountering cannibals, thieves and the constant search for food. This is quite literally a dying world, inhabited by horrors natural and man-made. One of the strengths of the movie is that you’re often not sure which is which. The visuals are unremittingly bleak, with grey barren landscape all around and survivors clothed in whatever they could find. This barren atmosphere is ably accompanied by an excellent sparse score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
To be honest, I‘ve had a virtual hard-on for Viggo Mortensen since LOTR and my faith was well and truly repaid here. Viggo hasn’t done many movies considering his acting chops, and he certainly hasn’t taken full advantage of his LOTR fame (he could have been at the top of the A list), but he does tend to pick great movies – when he’s not busy writing poetry, painting, beating up bad guys with one hand behind his back, or baring his arse. Swoon. The Road was no exception. His performance as an agonised parent struggling to stay alive for his child is full of emotion and brutal physicality. Kodi Smit-Mcphee as the Boy presents a superb edifice of wide-eyed fear and sorrow, hiding a morality that constantly questions: “are we still the good guys, do we carry the fire?”
There are problems with the film however. I for one didn’t like the ending; it felt like a bad fit with what had come before. The flashback sequences, while necessary, didn’t ring true, with Charlize Theron the main culprit. The film also at times reaches for an emotional pull that fails to quite materialise. It tries for anguish but merely seems grim. Similarly, there’s also a feeling of having to endure the film, and yet receive too little emotional pay-off in return. Just like Avatar I’m not sure I ever want to see this film again, however this time it’s for entirely different reasons.
Oh, and for those without Cindies-induced memory loss, that other movie was Grave of the Fireflies, a film which probably saddened me more than a death in the family. So if you can’t be arsed to go to the cinema… watch that? Although that would be stupid – and you’re certainly not stupid, you got 3 As at A level for god’s sake – because The Road is quite simply one of the best movies you’ll see in 2010. And I say that with complete and utter confidence, regardless of the fact it’s barely halfway through January. So man up, batten down the emotional hatches and take your first step on The Road. Do you carry the fire?
ALTERNATIVE VIEW: RACHEL MONTE
John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is one of those films which is technically good, but which having seen once I am probably never, ever going to see again. I'd rather watch Teletubbies than watch The Road again. Hell, I'd rather sit watching paint dry in a room that smells of leftover kebab and damp carpet than watch The Road again.
I knew a post-apocalyptic pilgrimage across a ruined America was hardly going to be a frolic in the park and I’ve been reading the book: McCarthy doesn’t like quotation marks, apparently the mark of a Serious Work and a sign that the apocalypse is, if nothing else, deficient in punctuation as well as in kebabs of the non-human variety. I just wasn’t expecting it to be quite so unrelentingly miserable the whole way through. Actually, it wasn't quite unrelenting, as every so often Kodi Smit-McPhee's plaintive whingeing of "Papa" filled me with a (perhaps unfair) desire to punch him exceedingly hard in the face. I am entirely willing to accept that some people, faced with the post-apocalyptic destitution of the world, would start chowing down on the other people in it. I am not willing to accept that a child born in said environment would be quite so whiny and prone to crying over earthquakes. Ordinarily I would have been filled with rage, but the effect of The Road is that you lose the energy for strong emotions. The best I could manage was a vague and continual irritation.
It wasn’t a bad film. The acting was superb and Mortenson’s performance in particular was extremely versatile, from the deep and tender affection he shows towards his son to the moment he forces another man to strip at gunpoint and takes his clothes, leaving him shivering and alone in the bleak surroundings. The setting is another thing that is done brilliantly, in the veins of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), but it’s just that the setting and the scenes like the one in which they stumble on the cellar of naked, mutilated, living people who are being kept as an edible resource, are the things you take away with you at the end of the film. That, and a strong desire to go and eat something which isn’t a person or Kodi Smit-McPhee.