Based on Cormac McCarthy’s book, The Road is a dreary story about a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Why the world is the way it is is never explained and none of the characters have names. The father, played by Viggo Mortensen in one of his best performances, is credited only as Man. The son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is just Boy. This is a dark, brutal picture that carries an overall sense of doom and rawness.
Through the use of flashbacks we see the life the Man had before the Apocalypse and the struggles he and his wife (Charlize Theron) went through when the world started to fall apart the day their son was born. She couldn’t handle being locked inside and wanted to end all their lives early on instead of fighting. The Man wouldn’t allow that to happen, having faith things would return to normal at some point. They never did and years later the Woman finally leaves, disappearing into the darkness one night. Father and son hit the road and head toward the sea, believing they will find some sort of salvation there.
Wary of other survivors, most of which have turned violent and cannibalistic since food and water are scarce, the Man avoids being seen and carries a gun with two bullets — one for the Boy and one for him. This is so they can kill themselves and not die by the hands of others if they are caught. While they walk we see dead trees, abandoned cars, skulls on sticks, and sweeping fields of fire. They have nothing worth living for except the love they have for each other.
Director John Hillcoat, whose last film was the 2005 Nick Cave-penned The Proposition, does something a lot of directors are scared to do these days and that’s allow long stretches of silence. These moments are intense and haunting and will eat at you. Hillcoat is also honest with the audience and shows the struggle the Man has with whether it’s better for him and the Boy to live or die. Mortensen plays the part perfectly and it invokes many anxieties in the viewer.
Whether The Road is as good as the book I can’t say. Like No Country For Old Men though the material makes for an excellent cinema experience and one I can safely recommend.
**** out of 5 stars
Top image: A scene from The Road. Courtesy Alliance Films.