Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, and Charlize Theron
Director: John Gillcoat
Screenplay: Joe Penhall; based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Released: Alliance Films (2009)
Genre: Horror; Drama; Dystopian
To make a movie based on such a bleak and relentless novel like The Road, I can imagine director John Gillcoat wondered how to convince audiences to sit through a story that seems to get more depressing with each scene. The book wasn't exactly what you'd call a romp, after all.
In a dystopian landscape that used to be America, a father and son are on a journey south. Dystopian is a polite term in this case for "gone to sh-t big time." While there is an allusion to some kind of environmental cataclysm, with fires engulfing everything, earthquakes rendering what's left to the ground, and the sun forever shrouded behind thick clouds and smoke, viewers looking for a clear explanation for why all life on Earth is dead or dying will be disappointed.
Viggo Mortensen plays the father and must have put himself through hell in order to effectively portray a starving man. Food is scarce in his world, and most of what he finds goes to his son. As such, Mortensen is skin and bones through most of this film and is one more disturbing ingredient for the film. By contrast, Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays his son is a glimmer of youth and vitality as they wander roads and wilderness together. And the resemblence in the face between Kodi and Charlize Theron, who plays his mother, is eery. One more reason to applaud the casting choices for the film.
Charlize Theron, however, plays a minor albeit pivotal role in the film, appearing in flashbacks to when the world started to collapse. While it might be fair to call her portrayal of a despondent mother-to-be and then a suicidal mother as sappy and overwrought, but I thought it worked well and helped gain all the more sympathy for Mortensen's character who must soldier on without her.
While father and son forage for whatever they can while avoiding contact with just about everyone else they cross paths with--and it's hard to blame them when slavery, rape, and cannibalism are harsh yet common occurrences in their world--there is an amazing scene in which they come across an old man making his own journey. Robert Duvall has that quiet dignity and heartache that is pitch perfect for his cameo. And if the movie is not your cup of tea, it's worth checking out for those ten minutes alone.
There's a universal heart string being strummed throughout the film concerning the unconditional devotion a father has for his son. And when life gets stripped down to the bare essentials, it shows how some lines can be crossed and yet some can never be crossed for the sake of a child. I don't remember there being a whole lot of fanfare for this movie when it hit theaters, and I'm pretty sure the Oscars forgot about it, but I think that might qualify it as a hidden gem.