The Road
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WINNER:
Cinematography (Javier Aguirresarobe)

NOMINEE:
Score (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)
Art Direction (Chris Kennedy & Gershon Ginsburg)

Theatrical Release Date: 11/25/2009
Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Garret Dillahunt, Guy Pearce

To paraphrase a Tenacious D song, “The Road is bleepin’ hard, the road is bleepin’ tough”. That’s exactly what you’re getting when you travel south with Viggo Mortensen and his young son (Kodi Smi-McPhee) in Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel turned film, “The Road”.

What’s it all about you may ask? Well, if you’ve seen “Clerks 2″ and heard Jeff Anderson’s character describe the three “Lord of the Rings” pictures, this is sort of what’s going on here. Viggo and his son walk for a while, discover trouble, barely escape, rinse and repeat.

I’m oversimplifying it but you get the point. With “The Road”, director John Hillcoat (“The Proposition“) delivers another beautifully shot and composed film. However, unlike “The Proposition” which had a lot more action and character development on hand, here he simply pounds the grim situation on display into the audience’s head over and over again, almost to the point of breaking them. It is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s “Gerry”, where two men wander aimlessly after becoming lost. There’s more art on display then entertainment in both.

Frankly, I prefer “Gerry” because the characters change more over the course of the film but if you’re a big Viggo fan or enjoy atmospheric apocalypse pieces, I could understand wanting to check this out. The production value is high, with the barren/destroyed/decayed landscape presented so beautifully by Hillcoat and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe.

The acting all around is excellent. Viggo was a great choice to play the lead and Robert Duvall is Robert Duvall. Garret Dillahunt gets yet another supporting bad guy role and Hillcoat tapped Guy Pearce to throw in a cameo as well (after having worked with him on “The Proposition”). I have minor issues with Kodi Smit-McPhee but I think they derive more from the direction and script than his ability to deliver what was asked of him. Charlize Theron is basically a throw away character but her presence helps elevate the role to just a tiny bit more than a plot device. Everyone else that Viggo and son meet along the way deliver solid performances as well.

Another aspect I appreciated was that the audience is never given all the facts point blank as to what event or events brought about such drastic climate change and global destruction (though there’s enough there to piece it together so it’s not a complete mystery) and that helped to set up a tension to the film.

This tension is the driving force of the picture, as Mortensen struggles to keep the will to survive inside both himself and his son. As this is mostly a film about the two of them walking from place to place, without the tension there’s no way I would have been able to stay awake. Speaking of which, there were times when I might have wished for a break, not because the tension was too much, but because I already got the point.

It sucks to live off of whatever scraps you can find, to sleep in makeshift shelters while on the run from looters, killers and cannibals, to have to distrust humanity in order to maintain the upper hand and survive. I get it. And although I can see that Hillcoat was trying to make sure we really felt the despair, I just found it to be a little overkill.

Rejoining Hillcoat are his musical collaborators from “The Proposition” (there’s so many people coming back, it’s like this is some twisted sequel), Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who do a similarly great job of matching up the score to the tone of the film. Mood and tone are the overriding central elements here and if you’ve ever seen the opening to “Jaws” without John William’s iconic score, you know how important the orchestra can be to a film’s success.

Perhaps the biggest caveat I would mention when asked to recommend the film is that you should know what kind of movie you’re getting. While the trailer may include a number of action scenes, those are pretty much all of them right there. This is first and foremost a psychological drama. If you want action first, an examination of humanity second, look elsewhere. Still, should you be wanting to take a look at what a father will go through to see his son through such dire events, “The Road” delivers from that angle and so I’ll give it a 3.5 out of 5. I expected more from the film, given its cast and creators, but that’s often the problem with expectations – they’re not always met.