Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Road (2009)

Somber, gut-wrenching drama about a father and his son wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of food, warmth, and other "good guys." The cataclysm that wiped out humanity is not specified, but the whole world is covered in a grey, volcanic ash, implying either war or atmospheric depletion or both; either way it is incredibly dark and depressing, constantly. Viggo Mortensen is the determined father, who, in narration, confides to us that he is aware that he is close to death, and is being very particular about the legacy he leaves for his pre-teen son. Many of the remaining survivors have given into cannibalism, and so the father-son is aware that they cannot trust anyone except themselves (this leads to several tense encounters with seemingly benign strangers). My favorite stretch of the film involves flashbacks to before, and during, the world-ending catastrophe, with Viggo and the boy's mother (Charlize Theron) going from a happily married couple to a pair of nearly-insane, desperate parents; Theron's performance in this brief section ranks among the best work I've ever seen from her, and easily makes the biggest impression of the supporting characters (although Robert Duvall's appearance warrants mention). The subject matter lends itself well to the dark, apocalyptic imagery, which is more Fallout 3 than I Am Legend in its wastelands and burnt, grey and brown landscapes. John Hillcoat uses the same nihilistic tone (and composers, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) that fueled his masterpiece, The Proposition, and it helps to achieve a sort of melancholy that few filmmakers can successfully maintain for the duration of a picture. In the end, the whole thing does not amount to much; because the film opts not to go the I Am Legend rote by throwing in third-act twists, and gratefully so, the narrative just sort of sputters out without any real finality. But as a portrait of a post-apocalyptic landscape and the loss of humanity that comes with it, it is slightly more successful than I Am Legend, but has more of its own unique identity.

Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic goodies like Mad Max or A Boy and his Dog or Viggo, who turns in typically professional work. This did not blow me off my candy ass the way The Proposition did, but I do not expect Mr. Hillcoat to find a more riveting story for his signature slow-burn than that film had in the near future.

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