The Road Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated November 26th, 2014 at 7:32 pm,

the road review screen rant The Road Review

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

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

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  1. Thanks for the great heartfelt review. From what I read I can understand it will be everything I was expecting and hoping. I know it will be a “tough” film to watch but that is why I love film, it makes me feel things I don’t normally feel. I can’t wait to see this film…

  2. I was really looking forward to this film. I love Viggo’s work. And then it happened… I had the chance to preview (pre-hear?) the soundtrack to this film.

    I know this is more of a movie than soundtrack website, but still. The score to this film is pure drek.

    So little inspiration went into it, so little actual work, so little apparent thought. It’s generic “pedal point” three-chord pop music with repetitive 5-note stepwise melodies. About as boring as it gets.

    I know, the film will probably be wonderful.

    I loved Star Trek’s reboot… and it also suffered from an insipid and unlistenable 2-dimensional film score.

    I’m just hoping that this piece of sh** doesn’t get the Oscar for “best soundtrack”.

  3. You know, saying that the movie left the question of whether or not he did the right thing kind of gives away the ending… Dammit, why do I have to analyze things like that?? I’ll pretend I didn’t think of that…

    Not sure if I’m going to have any more time or money this month to watch another movie, but I’ll add this one to my list. :-)

  4. Wow sounds good Kofi, I’m fracken there on opening day for this one,,,!!!
    Ironically I’m watching, “Children of Men” tonight. Another futuristic tale of whoa,,,

    Damn these End Times,,,

  5. Wonderful, wonderful film. Had the fortune of seeing the film at TIFF this year, and it was masterful.

  6. Can somebody tell me when this is coming out?

    I’m confused,,,

  7. I thought Viggo retired. Is this his last film, or is he un-retired now?

    Viggo retiring will leave a desperate hole in Hollywood. He has a commanding screen presence that’s unmatched. Stick around Viggo! We all love your work.

  8. I believe this comes out late November.


  9. Check the bottom of page 2 for release information guys. Been there since yesterday :-)

  10. Wonderful and insightful review. I’ve been looking forward to this movie and now await it with even less patience. This is in the top two of my list of books-that-may-be-destroyed-in-movie-adaptation… with the other being World War Z. here’s hoping this film lives up to your review, and that world war z can translate to the big screen as well, despite my reservations.

  11. Just what I was hoping to hear! I’m looking towards the release without fear now. Thanks.

  12. Great review Kofi!!!..I am really looking forward to this!! Reading past articles by you about this it sounds like you enjoyed the book as immensely as I did..and the movie too!! Can’t wait!! Thanks Again!

  13. Kofi, you must not have understood the complexities the director was trying to do. He totally misses the mark on the arthors intent. The movie was horrible and you need to work on your comprehesion skills.

    Didn’t want your head to swell all up, Kofi, with everyone agreeing (including me) that your review was quite good. We can’t have that type of thing around here. :-D

  14. LOL, yah, John, Kofi never understands anything, sheesh!! ;-)

    Just giving you a hard time Kofi, haha.

  15. nice review and one that really does not give anything away. having read the book and then watched the trailer – i was somewhat disappointed that once again – it shows that the apocalypse comes from global warming (to me more hollyblah blah blah). in the book it was very ambiguous with what really happened, which painted an even more bleak/despairing view of the world. i havent ever read a book as powerful as the road, and having kids of my own, with the way it was written, it really tired me out emotionally. any book or movie or whatever type of medium used – if it has the power to make you think after you’ve walked away from it, it truly is a work art.

  16. Can’t wait…

    And OrangeRush, I have read elsewhere that they keep the cause ambiguous in the film just as in the novel.

    It was an environmental disaster, but the underlying cause is not determined.

  17. I still can’t get “Children of Men” out of my mind.

    Man, you want to see a brilliant film about the coming police state that’s the ticket !!!

  18. 790

    Children of Men..very powerful film..

    ******************SPOILER ALERT***************

    The end scenes when they are walking out with the baby and all the fighting stops when the soldiers see the baby..The imagery in those scenes give me the chills even when I think about them, let alone watching them…It goes from COMPLETE ANARCHY to absolute quiet..the looks on some of those soldiers faces when they see the baby and people just trying to touch the baby!! It is also a powerful reminder about how important children are in this life!!

    Great film for sure!!!

    Like Pan’s Labrynth!! Powerful imagery!!

  19. @ OrangeRush

    The whole “environmental” thing, I’m proud to report, is a fabrication of the trailers that never once appears in the movie. The movie follows the book and never references what happened, just how the characters deal with it. And the Scorched world is truly brought to life wonderfully.

  20. Yeah GK333, I watched that scene a few times amazing… The visuals and physical effects were some of the best I’ve ever seen in a film.

    Children of Men,,,,,Spoiler ,,,,, ahead,,,,,

    The desperation in “Children of Men” is right up there with “The Road.”. You get the same feeling the world is on the brink of total anarchy. GK333 did you see the suicide kits they were selling on tv, man what a bleak world.
    The scene where Michael Caines character is killed was also very powerful,,,

    If you see the film make sure to listen to the music in the credits,,, particularly to the final song, “Running the World”. Great tune!

  21. @ 790

    I think Michael Caine’s character was the voice of reason and by killing him it was silenced for the rest of the film til the scenes of combat at the end when they see the baby!!

    So many great moments in that film and it really captured how bad the world would become without children..No hope, no faith and no future!! Bleak indeed.

  22. No theaters around me are showing it… Oh well…

  23. If anyone is wondering why this review has popped up again, it’s because the movie opens wide today and we thought we’d bring attention to our most excellent review once again. :)


  24. I wondered it at first, but figured it out when I saw the release date. :-)

  25. Lol, on behalf of your Oct 11th comment GK333 (I must have been distracted/drunk) yeah I agree. When Caine’s character was killed the film went bleakoid.
    Amazing film btw,!
    (Children of Men)
    Kofi, I can’t fricken wait to see “The Road”!!!

    I’m seeing it this friday!!! ;-)

  26. I’m going to read the book first, I wonder how many cinemas will even bother showing this flick. Viggo Mortensen is easily one of the best actors working in Hollywood, he deserved an oscar for LOTR. History Of Violence and Eastern Promises are absolutely amazing.

    Hell, I even liked Hidalgo!

    The Road looks like one of those films I will love and endlessly rewatch.

  27. i knew this was coming out but why no advertisement for it?

  28. Wasn’t this movie already reviewed on here? Or did i make that up? lol

  29. i am so fukn pizd that i cant find a showing anywhere in michigan to go and see it – wtf!?! azzhole movie suits.