VOD film review: The Road
Ivan Radford | On 11, Jul 2015
Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron
Watch The Road online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“Soon all the trees in the world will have fallen… I think it’s October, but I can’t be sure. I haven’t kept a calendar for years.”
The post-apocalyptic world is a grey place. Drowned in decaying ash, it sits in ruins, foraged by the few who survived. Among them are a father (Mortensen) and his boy (Smit-McPhee). They wander the wastelands, over the cracked ground, stepping between dead bodies and abandoned lives. It’s a sombre scene and it stops you cold. This is The Road they have to walk.
Cormac McCarthy’s creation made for a bleak book. Dense, yet sparse, heavy with metaphor; no wonder it won the Pulitzer back in 2007. It was only a matter of time before someone adapted it for the screen.
“The child is my warrant,” laments Viggo’s voiceover, “and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.” There’s a lot of that at the start. The sentimental exposition. It shouldn’t really work as a narrative device, but with Viggo’s gruff vocals, audibly torn apart by grief and death, it’s an affecting opening.
Struggling on with his son by his side, the pair survive against the odds – paranoid of other humans, starving and desperate, the Man won’t let the Boy fall prey to the hostile world around them. Born into this life and without his mother (Theron), the Boy knows nothing else; he’s only too happy to share his food with anyone they find. They hope to meet the good ones. The ones who don’t steal from other people and feed off their flesh. Fighting on in spirit and will, they are “carrying the fire”, the father teaches him. They’re also carrying a gun. It holds two bullets.
Centring on this paternal bond, The Road is primarily a two-hander. With such a convincing pair, it pays off handsomely. From discovering tinned pears to lessons in suicide, Viggo and Smit-McPhee are always believable. Thrown against real-life backdrops of destruction (including Katrina-hit Oregon), these unnamed characters constantly captivate; their truthful turns give the harrowing sights even more impact. The few times they do connect with those around them – a Godot-like tramp, played by Robert Duvall – are fleeting, but effective.
Shot in a morbid monochrome, the depressing palette only lifts in the flashbacks, showing us the life that was destroyed by the fire. Glowing off-screen in threatening flickers, we never see the destruction first-hand – John Hillcoat’s framing is perfect throughout, unflinching yet resolutely enigmatic. Stemming from a superb, subtle screenplay, Joe Penhall’s elegant adaptation of McCarthy’s prose underwrites every shot. Despite its weighty content, this is a precise and poignant piece of film-making. One that demands to be seen, even if you won’t enjoy it.
The Road is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.