The Road Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated November 25th, 2009 at 4:04 pm,

Short Version: The Road taps the power, beauty and horror of Cormac McCarthy’s novel and gives us a movie that is both gorgeous and gut-wrenching.

the road review screen rant The Road Review

Screen Rant Reviews The Road

For those biting their nails in anticipation (I know you’re out there), I’ll skip the usual opening fanfare and get right to it: In my opinion, director John Hillcoat has successfully taken the power, beauty and horror of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road and translated it, intact, to the big screen. I think that those moviegoers who don’t already read McCarthy now have another good example of why they should (The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men being the other); I think that those who DO read McCarthy will at least be happy that the movie version “didn’t screw it up,” and at most will truly appreciate the movie based on its own merits.

Now that I’ve got that out, let’s back it up and start at the beginning.

The Road tells the story of a bleak future where America (and maybe the world) has become a slowly rotting dystopia scorched by some unnamed disaster. The days are gray, ash rains from the sky and the air is only getting colder as the world grows dark. In this hell are The Man (Viggo Mortensen) and The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), walking the road from up north down the southern coastline, where hopefully they won’t freeze to death come winter. Man and Boy used to be completed by Wife (Charlize Theron), until the burden of protecting a child from hell on Earth became too much for her to bear.

For Man and Boy, the objective is simple: Head south along the road and keep surviving. That means finding food – somehow, someway – amidst the bone-picked ash lands, and more importantly, keeping out of the sights and snares of roving bands of cannibal gangs, who will surely rape, kill and then devour Man and Boy both – not necessarily in that order.

Welcome to the world of Mr. McCarthy.

Though the plot sounds like something out of a horror film, the real power of The Road is found in the poignant and gut-wrenching meditation on the power of a parent’s love. That Cormac McCarthy spun such a brilliant book out of those threads was a feat in itself; the task facing John Hillcoat and his cast when embarking on this film was monumental: bottle lightning twice, on a much bigger scale. I’m happy to report that both visually and performance-wise, all parties rise to the occasion.

Let’s start with the visuals. I was literally blown away by how well each and every single scene in the film brought to life the scorched world as told in McCarthy’s prose. If you read the author, you know of his unequaled (almost poetic) talent for describing scenes of land and nature – they’re the heart of his books and to overlook them would be a fatal flaw on the part of any film trying to recreate “the McCarthy experience.” Thankfully, Hillcoat takes a page out of The Coen Brothers’ playbook and invests wisely in an array of gorgeous scorched-Earth landscaping shots.

the road still 3 The Road Review

Not only does The Road nail pretty much every major set piece of the book, I dare say that the filmmakers are often successful in enhancing what the book created – as any cinematic adaptation worth a damn should do. There are these perfect little touches to every set piece: Ash piles and blackened metal husks on some burnt-out city block; loose bills of money blood-stuck to the ground that flail in the wind; ashen horizons, naked, gnarled forests and sludge-filled creeks; body parts, spilled guts and burnt skeletons littering the wayside – it’s all there, and the carnage is gorgeous. Even McCarthy’s constant mention of dying trees uprooting and falling over has been noted and included. It’s a film you could literally watch on mute and enjoy all the same.

But what about the acting?

Without some knockout performances, the entire emotional narrative of The Road would have sank beneath the horror-movie premise. But again, John Hillcoat is wise in his decision making, tapping just the right actors (read: talented) to play the handful of supporting roles the film offers.

At the center are The Man and The Boy. I know a few ladies are excited to see Viggo Mortensen back on the screen doing what he does best, and Mr. Mortensen once again steps up to the plate and earns that praise, giving us a Man who is half-crazed from love for his son, the loss of his Wife and the burden of waking up everyday to hell just to make sure that breath stays flowing through his son’s body. The film quickly forces you to understand that this is a world where the most important lesson a father has to teach his son is how to properly blow his brains out if cornered by cannibals. Mortensen attacks these chilling moments with all the genuine concern of a parent who truly wants the best for their child, making such moments all the more terrible. I couldn’t stop cringing in my seat.

Regarding Kodi Smit-McPhee as The Boy… I rank The Road 4.5 out of 5 only because I know that some people will make the fair argument that The Boy is “annoying” at times. For my part, I think Smit-McPhee does good work – only in a film where the rest of the cast and director are doing great work. The young actor is clearly too, well, young to totally comprehend (let alone convey) what this story is all about. As it stands, The Boy ends up as more of a physical metaphor than a realized character, and I think you can (and will) debate amongst yourselves about how closely (or not) that portrayal honors what McCarthy intended in the novel.

the road still 4 The Road Review

As for the supporting cast, I applaud the filmmakers for turning to a skilled set of actors to play what might be considered by more foolish minds to be “bit parts.” Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood) made my skin crawl in two minutes of screen time as a cannibal gang member; Michael K. Williams (The Wire) continues to prove why he’s so respected, bringing total humanity to The Thief (above) in just three minutes; Guy Pearce keeps you guessing for a minute whether The Veteran is going to save or savor The Boy; and Robert Duvall is a seasoned pro, transforming yet another supporting role into an indelible one. No weak links in this chain.

Continue reading our review of The Road

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5
(Must-See)

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TAGS: 4 star movies, the road

70 Comments

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  1. It sickens me that this film has such a limited release. I in no way live in the middle of no where and the closest place that is showing this film is 6-7hrs away. I’m a huge McCarthy fan and have been waiting a very very long time for this date. Needless to say I’m in puppy-kicking mode because of this and I have to honestly say the beginning of my holiday break has been ruined- yes I’m an avid movie-goer.

    In the current days of mediocre gfx driven crapfest movies, this one slips in but gets suffocated with mountains of seasonal screen garbage. Our society is so backwards.

  2. In the UK there has been nothing in the form of advertising for this movie, I probably wouldnt have even heard of it if it wasnt for this site!
    It is crazy that this is having such limited release, it goes to show, when absolute dross like TF2 is on every screen in the world!

  3. This movie has been on my radar for a while now. Loved the book as well as the Coen brothers adaptation of No Country. The post-apocalyptic setting is intriguing and a step outside ordinary movie boundaries. However I was hesitant on seeing it because I read numerous reviews stating that it was a great
    movie but It couldn’t compare to the book. After reading this review I am really considering catching it soon. All the actors/actress seem pretty on point here but honestly I’m not the biggest Viggo fan. Of course he was great in LOTR but I don’t think hes done that much good stuff after that. Anyways I’m more excited to see Guy Pearce in his “unrecognizable” role since I think hes a superb actor.

  4. Fenix

    have you seen A History Of Violence or Eastern Promises? Amazing films!

  5. just got back from seeing the road. and it was amazing. it was just like the book. i couldnt help but get choked up. its a shame as to the limited release of this picture. i was thinking why? and all i could think of was how were they going to market this – its obviously not your typical feel good, or big budget end of the world like 2012, but im still affected by it – and whether you have any religious based beliefs or feel anything spiritual – you will at least “feel” the love between the father and the son and how deep seeded it is. i know that this will prob not happen, but either duvall or mortenson should get an academy nod for this picture. i am a die hard scifi fantasy adventure dude, but i beg you – GO SEE THIS MOVIE. i know what i will be thankful for tomorrow – my two daughters, my wife and my family and friends and the country that i live in. thats my spiel.

  6. It sounds like an interesting movie, but I’m kinda worried I’m gonna leave the theater feeling bad and depressed. Are these concerns valid?

  7. I just found out that The Road will not be playing in my state. Does anyone know if the studios are doing one of those ridiculous marketing ploys where you have to email them to get the movie to your town, or am I just going to have to wait for it to come to DVD?

    I was really looking forward to seeing this movie…

  8. @Vincent

    No. This is just one of those films that didn’t get a super-wide distribution because they don’t think it has mass appeal and will make that much at the box office.

    Don’t fret, there’s always DVD/Blu-ray, folks!

    Vic

  9. DrSamBecket

    I have heard of both of those movies are good but I haven’t gotten around to seeing them. They both are a little bit darker and more mature than what I’m used to seeing him in so maybe I was a little put off by them. Still doesn’t mean they are bad movies so I will def check them out thanks for the comment!

  10. Saw this today,,,
    You end up leaving the theater with the fear that were headed toward this future,,,

    The film was powerfully dismal, yet had a very emtional ending that gave you some hope…

    Amazing performances,,,,

  11. I read the book and that’s the only reason I won’t be seeing the movie. I just knew when they pushed the release date back and added all the scenes that are in the trailer and not in the book (at least half) that it was just too dismal for wide release.

    Looks like after the additional re-writes and re-shoots it’s still too depressing. In fact, the ‘cellar’ scene (in the book) really creeped me out.

    (And I really wanted to see Viggo, Duvall, and Charlize in the same film!)

  12. So JessSayin your not going to see the film because its more depressing then the book?
    I heard the book was pretty bad,,,

  13. Hey Kofi, can you explain the reason some of the humans were missing their thumbs?

  14. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason, it was BEAUTIFULLY written. In spite of that, it was THE most depressing piece of literature I’ve EVER read.

    OrangeRush2112 wrote above, “you will at least “feel” the love between the father and the son and how deep seeded it is”
    -My biggest gripe with the book was the lack of affection spoken or physical between the father and son. Maybe that was addressed in the film as Viggo is a father himself.

    To each his own. It seems there are just as many who loved it as didn’t.

  15. I shouldn’t have typed the book is bad, what I meant was that it was super depressing.
    (Bad choice of words on my part)

    There was a lot of affection between the two characters in the film. I don’t think it would have worked any other way…
    It was clear to me that the kid was learning how to be a caring person as his father was turning into a ruthless person. Interesting twist there toward the end.

  16. i cant wait to see this film and the brothers film. im so tired of the action films with no story, just action action. i wish more films were taken seriouse with writers who actually make good stories and characters,and then action. im ready for movies to be thought about before just rushing to make slop. we need well though films.

  17. i think they should make steve a;yens the loch into a films,and remake the creature from the black lagoon. i also cant wait for the wolfman,and splice,and a remake to resident evil with a director like the guy who done the road,or someone like chris nolan to make it.

  18. The story is really just an extreme metaphor for parenting.

    Parents want their kids to be good people.

    Parents are also scared of that the big bad world out there will harm their children.

    Parents act in crazy ways to protect their children but want their children to always act sane.

    Children often hold their parents (for better or worse) to the “practice what you preach, papa” creed. Often to the annoyance and then reluctant acquiescence of the parent.

    Parenting: It ain’t an easy job, folks…

  19. @Kofi

    I have a feeling that when you get there you’re going to do a fine job, bro. :-)

    Vic

  20. The book stinks, there’s not a decent bit of dialogue in it, there are few encounters, and in the trailer there are more encounters than take place in the ENTIRE book. The movie isn’t playing here, either. John Shirley’s The Traveler series is FAR better than The Road as far as post-apocalypse fiction goes.
    A metaphor for parenting it may be, but will be lost on today’s parents as they are children themselves. Selfish, inconsiderate, self-centered snarky little kids.
    The only reason The Road won a Pulitzer Prize and was a NYT #1 bestseller is that if immediately followed NCfOM and its Oscar–the first paperback edition featured “Now a major motion picture with Viggo Mortensen!” and debuted at #1 before anyone had even read it, editor OR critic.
    It it had played here, at the local 12-plex, I would have wasted nine-fifty on it–which I can’t afford. Just as well they chose a limited release. Even if it were faithfuly adapted, it would be a short, mostly silent, poorly-executed, substandard excuse for a film.

    • You are a total and utter philistine for so many reasons. The Road has been much revered and lauded since its publication, three years before the film’s release. The book is magnificently written and widely regarded as one of the greatest American novels of all time; the film, simply, a masterpiece. Of course, all of this is subjective, but when popular opinion is so overwhelmingly contrary to your own, you must begin to question whether you have any idea what you are talking about. And you don’t.

  21. Gil James Bavel, you sound a tad biased,,, ;-)

    Good point there Kofi on the parenting aspect,,,
    I so can’t wait to never have kids!!!

  22. Having read the book last year, I knew the movie was going to be great when I first the the initial scenes from the trailer. Before I saw the title of the film, I told my wife, “They made a movie of “The Road”. Hillcoat totally nailed the look and feel of the novel. It’s hard to believe this is his first directorial feature of note.

    My take on the story was more along the lines of maintaining your integrity and morales while all around you have lost theirs. I really can’t see anyone leaving this movie without feeling something, be it disgust, depression, revulsion, or dare I say, hope?

    Great art, whether literature or cinema, makes you FEEL something. In this respect, “The Road” is an unqualified success. In a time when most major motion pictures make little to no impression upon me, “The Road” totally got under my skin and ripped me apart inside. No greater compliment for a work of art can be offered.

  23. I loved this movie. It was depressing and dark, but the haunting beauty of the acting, story, cinematography – everything – made it worth it. I stood staring at the screen for like 10 minutes afterwards, thinking about it.

    Very true – it does make the audience (at least, this audience member) “what would I do in that situation?”

    Brilliant.

  24. I have to admit that the book was horribly depressing. It was a beautiful book, but I had to take breaks in the middle of reading it because it would bring me down so much. It was also kind of difficult to read since (in the version I read) the dialouge was not marked as dialouge. It had no quotations or punctuation marks making it very difficult to get through the book knowing if anything had been really “said” and not just “thought.” Apart from the scenes with The Man’s wife, the movie was a spot on depiction of the book.

  25. i could not stand that whiny boy, i mean come on i figure he would be a lot tougher…. kid made me quite angry

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