Review: The Road
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4/5CORMAC McCarthy's celebrated post-apocalyptic novel is moulded almost faultlessly into a harrowing yet enjoyable tale of survival by a father and his son.
The setting becomes instantly apparent. America, and assumingly the world, has been devastated by an unspeakable, unexplained event which has stripped the trees bare and cloaked the land in ash. Crops have died; food is scarce; the sun is invisible; and entire lands have been made void of all animal life. The small surviving groups of humans have become scavengers who trail the roads day and night in search of food and fuel. These groups, it is revealed, will even eat each other.
The story follows two characters: a Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son, the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as they journey south, across the desolate wasteland to the coast. The Man's reasons for wanting to reach the coast are unspecified. Perhaps it can be assumed the calm waters would provide hope and soothe fears that humanity is lost. Told through various flashbacks, it is revealed the Man had a Wife (Charlize Theron) who abandoned the family midway through the aftermath of the apocalypse. Her life had been continuously haunted by the regret of giving birth to the Boy into the horrors of the post-apocalyptic world. Her departure and revelations all those years ago continue to haunt the Man as he journeys to the south, promising the Boy that life could be better there.
But the wasteland is harsh, and as they both journey south encountering the horrific effects of the apocalypse and cannibals along the way they both come to struggle with their morality and the bleak inevitability they face upon the dying earth.
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The casting is perfect to the last detail, with Mortensen precisely cast as the Man and young Kodi Smit-McPhee as the Boy. And although the likes of Guy Pearce and an almost unrecognisable Robert Duvall do not appear on screen for long, both their performances are worthy of the highest praise. It would not be surprising to see any of the films' cast pick up an Oscar or two come March.
Though it is bad practice to compare the film to the book, thanks to such a dedicated previous adaptation of another of McCarthy's work - No Country for Old Men - comparisons are bound to be inevitable. No Country for Old Men followed the book so closely that the directors, the Coen Brothers, joked they took it in turns to transcribe it to script.
The Road does depart from the book on occasion, but this does not necessarily have a detrimental effect on the whole picture.
Charlize Theron's expanded role as the Wife, which is neither cliched nor out-of-place, really adds a depth to the film which is otherwise unimaginable in the book. And while McCarthy's poetic and complex prose is often compressed or subtracted for the sake of the films first-person narrative, it helps in maintaining a sense of character development and direction to the story.
Yet while certain omissions are acceptable, others are not. As bleak and brutal as the film is, the book is far more so and the film suffers for omitting such vivid, violent images. Fans of the book will no doubt be haunted by McCarthy's memorable image of the cannibals roasting an infant on a spit. While seeing such an image is not enjoyable, this image - and others depicting the degradation of mankind - are lost in the story, possibly replaced by softer images to keep the film within the fifteen-certificate.
While many passages are lost in translation from paper to screen, certain images and emotions are only enhanced by the transition.
Director John Hillcoat's vision of the book is mesmerising. The cinematography and overall feel to the film is one of captivating helplessness. The world is tired and grey; the characters are too; and the journey seems pitifully anti-climatic. Yet it is exciting and enthralling. You want the characters to make it, you really do. But you understand the inevitability that the road must end somewhere.
While fans of the book will not read the ending in the same way as Hillcoat, the solution is believable and satisfactory enough to reward a perceptive viewer and rounds off the impressive film in an ethereal manner.
Overall, 'The Road' is a superb tale of a father and son's journey through issues of morality and hope in a time where primitive survival skills prevail as the dominant method of dealing with the impossible.