Over the years these grisly post-apocalyptic scenarios have become a dime a dozen in film and literature. When award-winning author Cormac McCarthy decided to put his spin on the idea with his novel The Road, people took notice. By focusing on a father-son relationship instead of the usual action and horror that lends itself so well to post-apocalyptic tales, McCarthy received mountains of praise for his stark, horrific fable. Now, just in time for the holiday film season — and honestly, what screams holidays with the family more than a cannibal holocaust? — director John Hillcoat (previously responsible for the grim Aussie western, The Proposition) delivers his adaptation of McCarthy’s celebrated novel to the big screen.The good news is McCarthy’s grim, ash-covered, earthquake-riddled, tree-toppling, cannibal-ridden, sparse nightmare of words is translated to Hillcoat’s visual world fully in tact. The set designers, special effects folks and cinematographer deserve all the credit in the world for making this barren wasteland look both dire and magnificent in scope. Also like the book, the film is essentially a two person show depicting the relationship between The Man (Viggo Mortensen, growling and whispering his way through another solid performance) and The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee, fraught, sympathetic and believable). They do expand a bit on the back-story involving The Man’s wife (and The Boy’s mother), where we learn that Viggo’s character was insanely smitten by Charlize Theron’s character because she was the type of gal that would lay in the grass instead of a perfectly good hammock. Why she chooses to abandon her husband and little boy remains a mystery as does the cause of the apocalypse, which will frustrate some while entrance others.
For the most part, fans of the book should rejoice, but I always had my reservations, and this fastidiously faithful film adapts all of the source material’s faults along with the good stuff. Like the novel, there can only be so many scenes of the father and son traipsing across this hell-hole from one place to the next in search of food before the narrative becomes monotonous. The story takes forever to get where it’s going, and once it does, the final act seems far too convenient and pat. I won’t expand more on that here for fear of spoiling the film for those who haven’t read the book, but it is an ending that raises more questions than answers, although it is guised in a veil of hope.
Ultimately, John Hillcoat’s The Road is a reverent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, well acted, well directed, and full of compelling imagery. However, by overplaying its hand with regards to the central relationship between a father and son and remaining stubbornly vague about everything else, what was meant to be haunting and unforgettable is rendered easily forgotten with a shrug of the shoulders. This is a road we’ve taken before, but I suppose I would rather take this one than to have to sit through another I Am Legend.
Written by David H. Schleicher