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Ten Word or Less Review: The Apocalypse is a bummer.  Not an action movie.

For Hollywood the end of the world is an action setting playground.  After the world comes to an end it transforms into a wasteland populated with wondering badasses who protect the meek  by fending off the robber barrens and zombies of the land.  Both sides usually wear lots of leather, stylized rags or the occasional hockey mask.  In essence, the world becomes a dead tech, western, fantasyland.  Rarely has a movie attempted the apocalyptic vision of “The Road”, John Hillcoat’s faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pultizer Prize winning novel.  In this story, the end of the world is exactly that, the end.

The Apocalypse of “The Road” is an unglorified and grizzly one in which existence isn’t nearly impossible, but horrible.  There are no cool, homemade automobiles or boats to joyride around in.  The robber barrens are still here, but they don’t want your gas, and they don’t wear fetishistic leather get ups, they only want to eat you, and not because they are zombies.  There are times when what’s left of world seems to threaten to crack open and swallow up its last remaining souls in one last act of disgust towards humanity.  People have always had a morbid curiosity to see the world come to an end and Hollywood has always been happy to oblige.  “The Road” is a movie to hopefully stave off that misguided interest.  When the world ends, it’s not a special effects spectacular, but a sad and miserable place where good people go bad and other good people go worse.  It is in this horrid landscape we follow a boy and his father as they struggle forward each day trying to eek out life, and not be a meal for someone else.

Viggo Mortensen is the father to the lone boy, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee.  The two of them walk along the road of the title, itself a highway that he hopes will take them far enough south and to the ocean where something like life still might exists.  Each day consist of two things, him doing his best to save himself and his son from starvation and to keep the two of them from being eaten by roving bands of cannibals.  In this apocalypse there literally is nothing left of the world.  Food stores are gone, plant life is dead, animals are not to be seen.  At night the remains of civilization burn away.  No real explanation is given as to how all this came to be and an explanation isn’t necessary.  When the end comes that’s all there is.  The how’s and why’s no longer matter because there’s no one left to contemplate them or undo the destruction.  It’s this grim march through a world’s death that makes the overall success of “The Road” somewhat shocking.  With lapsing into one note morbidity very possible at all turns, “The Road” manages to keep the viewer engaged, in large part because of Mortensen and his relationship with Smit-McPhee.  Their interaction is touching, believable and rooted in the belief that humanity is a good thing worth cherishing.

Mortensen sees his son as possibly the last vessel of human dignity.  He instills in him a strong since of right and wrong, even at a time when to do so seems a waste of effort.  We’re watching what feels like what could be the last attempt at human decency to ever transpire when Mortensen keeps his son safe from the surrounding savagery.  Decency, as banal as the word may sound, is largely the point of the story.  Without decency, we collapse into barbarism, as happens here.  When that happens, our humanity is lost and thus we are lost.  “The Road”, for all its unending grimness, is ultimately a redemptive story, though one many may not enjoy taking.  False uplift and hooky emotionalism are as absent as the wiped away civilization.

This is another stellar part for Mortensen who has crafted together a fine string of roles in some gutsy pieces of cinema.  He’s escaped the booby trap of sci-fi fantasy worship which kills or stalls careers as fast as it makes them.  The film hinges on his performance and he doesn’t disappoint.  The lack of overall kudos for his work here is surprising.  Newcomer Smit-McPhee is strong as well, but his part requires a little less than other more daring childhood performances.  The only major change to McCarthy’s novel comes in the form of a small role for Charlize Theron.  The movie grafts on flashback/dream sequences which introduce her as the mother/wife who chooses certain doom over a life of uncertainty at world’s end.  Robert Duvall has a solid, minor part and is nearly unrecognizable.

Despite its overall success “The Road” has clearly been edited within inches of its life.  Delayed for more than a year and tinkered with endlessly in the editing room, “Road” feels like a happy medium everyone agreed to live with.  Several sequences feel abrupt and one or two others feel a little pointless.  The brisk pace that the movie keeps probably works to its advantage, as lingering too long in one place in this world of dead could probably stop the movie cold.

With its endless views of gray desolation “The Road” will be a hard journey, if not impossible one, for many viewers.  Though the swift footed nature it maintains could make it bearable for those less tolerant of downer cinema, it is still downer cinema, though of the highest order.  Never the less, appreciators of sad, morose, heartbreaking stories will be taken by “The Road’s” bleak but moving point of view.

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One Comment

  1. I agree with you that Mortenson hasn’t got his dues since LOTR. Everyone can’t seem to move past Aragon, although he clearly has. And good for him.

    I’m waiting for this to hit video and I’ll check it out. I heard the book was incredible and that peeked my initial interest in the film.

    Thanks for the review!


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