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The Road

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy


Screenwriter: Joe Penhall

Director: John Hillcoat


Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi McPhee, Charilze Theron, Guy Pearce

with Robert Duval

Producers: Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz

Composer: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis

Studio: Weinstein Company









A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


If you’ve ever wondered what a post-apocalyptic world might look like, look no further than John Hillcoat’s cinematic version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Set in America, it is like something out grey, brown and bled all over nightmare. With withered trees crashing and food virtually non-existent, gangs roam charred woods in search of the only remaining source of nourishment – man.

It’s not certain what has happened to planet earth to bring it to its sorry state in this film, but what happened is not the point of McCarthy’s story, but rather, how men would react when and if it did. While it’s obvious that whatever happened was so devastating that it wiped out all animal and plant life, spreading a layer of chalky white dust over everything, it hasn’t been enough to completely kill the spirit of one man and his young son, who, in this story, refer to one another as dad and son. Somehow, the fact that they are nameless seems to make their archetypal bond stronger, as though they are the only real remaining father and son, which, through most of this film it seems they may be, as nearly everyone who’s survived the devastation seems to have lost any trace of humanity.

‘We’ll keep going south...Everything depends on us getting to the coast, ‘dad tells his son, as they move through this charred, hostile landscape and we want to believe him. Whenever the father and son are in danger, and they often are, we inadvertently move to the edge of our seats en masse. You could have heard a pin drop may be a cliché but it certainly applied during this screening. In brief moments of calm, we learn, as the characters we’re watching so vigilantly have, never to let our guard down completely. It’s a great compliment to both John Hillcoat’s directing and the talents of the actors in this film that we’re so into their journey. While there’s little time to actually root for the characters between narrow escapes, we at least hope they manage to sidestep enough of their dangerous obstacles to reach their goal, even if their journey really only seems a metaphoric one.

Not having read McCarthy’s novel, I was reliant on director Hillcoat to lead me on and lead he did. It was only when I came home after watching the film and listened to Hillcoat’s Screentalk online, (taped 06/01/2010 at the Barbican) that I discovered that some of the details of McCarthy’s novel had been altered slightly in order to offer wider appeal to its cinematic audience, always, bearing in mind the author’s original intent. Readers of McCarthy’s novel will know what I mean when I speak of a newborn baby, without going into any further detail, so suffice it to say that that scene was one that Hillcoat initially fought to retain in the film, and then, just as vigorously fought to have removed.

Viggo Mortensen was the perfect choice to play the father in this film who loses everything before finding out what matters most of all. His intensity as an actor is put to good use here as is his ability to carry us along on his tide of feelings. As his young son, Kodi McPhee is nothing short of amazing, giving off just the right mix of love and defiance that a boy nearing adolescence would possess. As the mother, Charilze Theron is something of an enigma, though readers of the novel may have been more clued up as to just where she was heading when she left her family’s hideaway in the dark one night, with her husband being unable to stop her. Her departure seemed inconclusive, though she had repeatedly expressed the fact that to her, suicide was the only option in an already dead world. But that’s the type of thing that comes up in adaptations – vague episodes that are all too clear to readers, but generate momentary kernels of uncertainty in cinema-goers for whom the story is new. Robert Duvall performs a convincing cameo role as an old man the father and son encounter along the road who, shares some of their time but never gains the trust of Mortensen as protective parent.

The Road is one hell of a roller-coaster ride through, well, hell and it takes us there without the use of any computer pyrotechnics, something that is greatly in its favour as it adds to the realism a thousand-fold. Let’s hope this starts a trend that is at the least, just as reliant on telling a good story as on the accoutrements of technology. In this day and age, the fact that the sets are ‘real’ is enough to give us a stronger sense of the state of things being portrayed as a potential future reality, which, really enhances the morale of this parable, which must be curb your greed, or you’ll be in dire need.
Human nature is like a hand of cards, and for most, the way that hand is played depends on circumstances. The worst part of what The Road relays is that in our inner gut we know that what McCarthy is telling us about human nature is true, but seeing it conveyed so vividly before us via Hillcoat’s film hits us where we live, in our complacency. In fact, one wonders whether McCarthy was using this situation and these two people as a metaphor for our complacency in the first place.

“We’re the good guys, aren’t we?” the boy asks his harried father intermittently during the course of their arduous journey. “And we always will be, won’t we?” is the second part of his query, to which the father always answers, “Yes, we always will be.” But it’s how good we think we are and how good we would remain under potentially humanity draining circumstances that’s the real question.



Barbican film
The 16th London Australian Film Festival
Thursday 18 to Sunday 28 March 2010
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