Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Road

An interminably depressing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's interminably depressing, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Directed by John Hillcoat, who made the 2005's Aussie outlaw indie hit, The Proposition, a few years navigates this long, windy road with utmost precision, and absolute faithfulness to McCarthy's downbeat prose. The best decision the film version of The Road makes is casting Viggo Mortenssen in the title role of Man-- I can't think of a better, more suitable choice in presence or demeanor. Mortenssen, always a more mediatative actor, seems instinctively perfect for the role of a father, helplessly and hopelessly, trying to save himself and his Son (newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee) in this saga set at the end of the world.

How did it all of this occur-- the actual reasoning for the world damnation is never explained-- not in novel or film, but it's dire as plant-life and animal life is all but extinct, save for a handful of people, many of whom have resorted to cannibalism. And so Man and Son move, in search of food and shelter in Hillcoat's nightmarishly gray post-world. And that's pretty much the film; two hours of man and boy running off and away. The result is an incredibly well made film (visually the film is beautiful and haunting-- Hillcoat proves himself a master at control and letting the desolate imagery tell most of the story) with two incredible performances (the movie falls apart if the chemistry between Mortenssen and Smit-McPhee doesn't jell; it does in aces), but it's also detached and feels foreign, unlike say Children of Men which presented a similar end-of-the-world scenario that felt kinetic and vibrant.

We felt part of the story there, The Road lumbers and marches on. All of this worked beautifully on the page, but feels even more detached on screen. At one point in the film, the Man says "You must think I'm from another world," and this audience member felt "YES! You are!" There's isn't much of plot, and while I have utmost respect to Hillcoat and the fine technicans doing an honorable adaptation of a very un-cinematic, difficult book, the emotional investment in The Road is somewhat fleeting. As much as I admire Mortenssen's effort, I never felt that I knew anything more about his Man in the end, than at the beginning, and film's relentless flashbacks to happier and sadder times at home grappling with apocalyptic measures with his belated Woman (Charlize Theron) don't help matters much.

After all of this, I contend that The Road is something worth seeing, because movies like this don't get made very often (meaning adult dramas) and there's a need to support cinema like this, for Hillcoat is making a film that aspires to the moon. But I also contend it's a movie that one will likely only want to see once as it's without question 2009's feel-crappy-movie-of-the-year; but then again maybe that's something to celebrate as well. B-

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