Anyone who has read Cormac McCarthy’s chunk of devastation might be wondering if, for all the stylish and affecting prose, is there really a movie in there? After sitting through director John Hillcoat’s faithful adaptation of The Road, you’ll probably still be wondering.
Viggo Mortensen stars as our malnourished unnamed protagonist, leading his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. True to the book, there is no explanation for what wiped out civilization.
Charlize Theron turns up for bracing flashbacks as Mortensen’s wife, debating the merits of survival in a world gone to hell. But for the most part, this is just the tale of a dying father and his little boy pushing a shopping cart through wreckage. And that’s a problem.
Finely written as McCarthy’s novel may have been, it was also a bit of a slog—loosely connected, deeply upsetting anecdotes with little in the way of forward momentum. On screen The Road suffers miserably from this structural deficit. Viggo and son are headed toward the shore for reasons that remain unclear. There’s no promise of hope at the end of their journey, just a direction to be followed. There’s nothing here to hang onto. It’s just a slow wander, waiting for bad shit to get worse.
Hillcoat, who helmed the vicious Aussie western The Proposition, has an eye for magnificently wrecked landscapes. There’s a grim authority to his vision that, thanks to weird release date timing, feels like a punishing hangover to the destructo-porn of 2012. It says a lot that the uncharacteristically maudlin score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis doesn’t sink the film completely.
But as harsh and obscenely beautiful as these images may be, The Road seems to go on forever, feeling twice as long as its 119 minutes. C