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The Road Review

By Joe Lozito

On "The Road"


I seem to be writing the term "post-apocalyptic" a lot lately. From the stitch-work creations that wander an animated wasteland in "9" to the tendon-chewing undead that terrorize the survivors in "Zombieland", the end-times genre is alive and well in theaters this year. The latest entry is an oppressively but appropriately bleak adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", about a father and son struggling to survive in a devastated, yes, post-apocalyptic landscape.

Make no mistake, "The Road" is not a good time at the movies. The sky is permanently gray (when it's not pouring down rain); the planet is in tatters, littered with burned out wrecks of all kinds; and, with a complete lack of natural resources, the few remaining humans have turned to cannibalism, not to mention various other forms of horror.

It all started ten years ago. The specifics of the catastrophe are not described but what we learn, via some well-placed voice-over, is that there was a "white flash" followed by "a series of concussions". And that was just the beginning of the end. The remaining human survivors quickly devolved (or were we always like this?), trawling the landscape for food (in any form) and easily turning on each other.

In the film, as in the novel, this nightmare scenario is seen through the eyes of a man and his son (in the book, they're referred to only as The Man and The Boy). They have nothing but the clothes on their backs, a revolver with two bullets, and a shopping cart of random detritus. As played by Viggo Mortensen, in a typically top-notch, intense performance, The Man's paternal instincts have become feral. With nothing else in the world, everything is about his son. The Boy, meanwhile, played with preternatural skill by newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee, can only struggle to understand his surroundings. He has known no other world; drinking a Coke is a whole new experience for him.

The Man and The Boy aim south, for the coast, for the promise of...something. But we know what they'll find there. And it's likely they do too. There is no hope in this future. Even the few bright moments - told via brief flashbacks and featuring Charlize Theron as a glowing symbol of what once was - are tinged with impending catastrophe.

After 2005's similarly bleak (and even more engrossing) "The Proposition", director John Hillcoat is no stranger to unyielding portraits of hopelessness. Writer Joe Penhall adheres as closely to his source material as his main characters do to the titular thoroughfare. The cause of the apocalypse may be left vague, but the story's metaphor is clear - particularly with all the talk of characters "carrying the fire". Life's a journey, not a destination. It's not always pleasant. And in "The Road", as in life, you'll get out of it what you put in.

What did you think?

Movie title The Road
Release year 2009
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Oppressively, but appropriately, bleak adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's end-of-the-world novel about a father and son wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape. Points for strong performances from the two leads and the film's unyielding view of the end of days.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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