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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW
The Road

The Bleak and The Weak, The Wrong and the Strong


Road trippin': Viggo Mortensen as the Man and Kodi-Smit McPhee (background) as the Boy in  John Hillcoat's drama "The Road", which opened today.   
Dimension Films

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Much delayed, John Hillcoat's post-apocalyptic dystopian film "The Road", based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy (who also wrote No Country For Old Men) finally has its day in court -- excuse me, in movie theaters, today, and it sustains itself after a tricky start, with good performances by Viggo Mortensen and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and son who try to survive when the world around them hasn't.

Shot mostly in earth tones and adapted for the big screen by Joe Penhall, "The Road" tracks an uneasy truce between and among various characters (none of whom have names in the film) and the harshness of human nature and primal attitudes.  With little food and water to survive follow a collapse of the world ("2012" is still fresh on the scene), the main characters rummage in foliage and scour the abandoned parts of the U.S. hoping to find sanctuary.  You know it won't be easy, and you needn't read Mr. McCarthy's book to discover this.

Charlize Theron plays the mother and wife of this pair of Darwinian subjects and it's readily apparent that her character, one of the least developed and poorest acted, has to sacrificed.  Mr. Penhall's wandering script lets the actors down to a degree, though the acting by Mr. Mortensen, who like Christian Bale has often offered himself up to be put to the ultimate physical endurance test as an actor, is very good.  He has to teach his son the rules of the road that aren't there or seen -- trust, safety and compassion -- a road that proves awfully rocky.  As the Man, Mr. Mortensen has to be the film's propulsive heart, even if much of the film is as barren and silent as its substance.  There's a nice cameo from Robert Duvall, on screen for about five minutes as an old man who appears to have beaten the odds, and his presence gives the film a weight that it frequently lacks, even with an actor the stature of Mr. Mortensen, who brings out the best in Mr. Smit-McPhee, who forms the film's conscience and its future.

Upon seeing "The Road" I can't help but think of the film "Wendy And Lucy", which for many American audiences opened in January and February this year.  There's actually an interesting comparison: Michelle Williams is excellent in a contemporary America as a homeless woman traversing the Pacific Northwest looking for her dog, enveloping herself in virtual silence throughout, and in "The Road", much the same emptiness and desolation unfolds even with the school of hard knocks firmly in place.

In Mr. Hillcoat's film moral dilemmas will either keep the father-son duo honest or make horrors of them both, but the director doesn't make a horror of this long-awaited film, giving audiences occasional respite from the bleak visions, albeit wonderfully-photographed ones by Javier Aguirresarobe, with sunny remembrance shots of a life once better lived.  Are the rites of passage to manhood what you see in "The Road"?  I'm not sure exactly, but I can hardly think of a more rigorous initiation into adulthood.


With: Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Michael K. Williams, Garret Dillahunt, Bob Jennings, Agnes Herrmann and Gina Preciado.

"The Road" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some violence, disturbing images and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 59 minutes. 

Read more movie reviews and stories from Omar here.


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