Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Road - Dir. John Hillcoat

In the post-apocalyptic wasteland of America, a Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travel the road hoping to avoid the ‘bad’ people, and ultimately stay alive as along as humanly possible. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s (Blood Meridian, No Country For Old Men) 2006 acclaimed novel ‘The Road’, the film is more about how we and our loved ones cope after a devastating event as much as it is about survival in the harshest environments left on Earth. John Hillcoat treats McCarthy’s original novel with the upmost respect and admiration. Almost never deviating from the original story, to create an almost perfect adaptation from page-to-screen, the film itself will certainly leave an impression upon you.

There was a flash, and then civilization collapsed. Whether it was nuclear war, global warming or something entirely different, neither the film nor the novel actually confirms what was happened. Many have speculated that the event in question may have been a global nuclear war; however in the context of the story, what almost destroyed all civilization on Earth, is irrelevant. Instead the story spends its time looking at the aftermath. The Boy is born into a post-apocalyptic life where he may never know the wonders that went before him. The Man’s Wife becomes a painful distant memory of how only those strong in the mind survive such atrocities. And the Man himself takes on the various jobs from being an educator and carer to the most important job of most adults lives: a parent.

This is where ‘The Road’ decides to spend its time, looking, admiring, scrutinizing and acknowledging the relationship between father (Man) and son (Boy). The most important aspect of any parent’s life is the wellbeing of their child. While the Man must strive to keep his son healthy, fed and ultimately alive, he must also induct him into the world of adulthood at the earliest possible time. The Man acknowledges that he won’t be around forever, and that he must provide his Boy with all the help he can offer, to allow him to continue to survive, live and prosper for an the longest period of time after his own inevitably passing. And this father and son relationship is exemplified beautifully by both Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who both give fantastic performances that keep the film ticking over until the heart-wrenching climax.

Despite only being thirteen years of age at the time of filming, Kodi Smit-McPhee at times eclipses Mortensen’s on-screen performance and shows that just like his character, that he is mature beyond his age. When his father offers him a can of Coca-Cola (possibly one of the very few left in existence), the Boy is hesitant to gulp it down quickly and selfishly like most dehydrated children would. Instead he offers the drink to his father, who is clearly ill, and this shows the audience that he has already started on his transition to the responsibilities of adulthood. While this ‘ascension’, also creates a personal crisis within Mortensen’s character. He understands that his Boy must more self-sufficient as he will not be alive forever, however at the same time he wishes, as any parent would, for his son keep some of the childhood innocence and in a sense, the protection of a father.

Aside from the astounding central performances, the direction of Hillcoat, cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe and the editing of Jon Gregory combine together to create the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the Man and his Boy walk among daily. This bleak landscape is coated in ash, darkness and destruction to draw the audience into an environment where everything is dying. And this is accompanied by the fact we are never shown the world before the ‘apocalyptic event’ or during, we are only ever introduced to the outside world in the aftermath, after all there is no point dwelling on the past. Beautifully shot, carefully adapted and brilliantly acted, ‘The Road’ should certainly be on the edge of the cinematic community’s lips come the awards season.
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