If you’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s colossal chunk of devastation, you might be wondering if, for all the affectations, is there enough meat on the gnawed bone to warrant an entire movie adaptation? Apparently Aussie filmmaker John Hillcoat thought so.
Just like the bleak source, Hillcoat doesn’t bother giving any explanation for the dawning of the apocalypse, being much more interested in unfurling the father-son relationship struggling to live through it; which Mortensen and newcomer Smit-McPhee handle with aplomb. Although we get brief exposition moments in the form of hackneyed flashback sequences, for the most part, we spend close to two hours observing a dying father and his little boy pushing a shopping cart through wreckage. And that’s a problem.
Acutely written as McCarthy’s novel, the film is quite an uphill struggle. On screen, The Road suffers miserably from this structural deficit. Viggo and son are headed toward the shore for reasons that remain undetermined. There’s no promise of light at the end of the tunnel, just a path to be followed. It’s just a slow wander, waiting for the bleakness to turn blacker, even when it can get seemingly none more black.
Although the narrative is tough, Hillcoat has an alarming ability to make wastelands look lushous, with washy greens and blues turning the film inexplicably alluring. Hillcoat also manages to get the soundscape bang-on too, working with frequent collaborators and musical doyens Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, whose loosely orchestrated and overtly-maudlin instrumentals often take up the emotive space left behind by the sparse dialogue.
In the end, The Road is a story of disconnection, from society, from nature, and from each other. Whilst McCarthy’s book is able to delve into the complexities of the grim situation from an omniscient, third person narration, this film, whilst being superbly acted and choreographed, is too claustrophobic and oppressive, taking forever to reach it’s interminable destination.