The Road (2010)

The Road is a depressing, beautiful film, crafted expertly to portray a post apocalyptic America where hope is very hard to retain. It is slightly plot-less, but so well created and acted that it doesn’t matter. Grim, visually stunning and brutal, The Road is a film about clinging onto what is left of Humanity before it slips away forever, and it is done incredibly well.

The Man (Viggo Mortensen) and The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are walking South through an America ravaged by an unspecified world-ending event, their destination is somewhere non-specific. This is the entire plot, but The Road isn’t flawed because of this. The Man and The Boy’s journey is treacherous and incredibly dangerous, and it’s compelling, emotionally charged viewing.

John Hillcoat gives an immaculate portrayal of post apocalyptic America, years after whatever tragedy befell it (only shown in teasing flashbacks where The Man sees something out of his window, hears screaming and immediately runs a bath, to preserve water). The Earth is broken, falling to pieces, shattered by Earthquakes and fires leaving all plant and animal life dead or dying, and its menace is constantly there, whether explosively loud or creaking and groaning in the background. The buildings are all ash-covered shells, pillaged of all goods years before, leaving behind only corpses and shattered hopes. The Road keeps a constant, unpleasant tension throughout, a threat seen or suggested in every look or glance. And this is not without reason, as the survivors of the human race have resorted to extreme measures to continue their existence. Gangs of cannibal rapists stalk the barren land, killing without question, reducing any semblance of humanity to a whisper.

The Road is grim watching, but not without hope, which comes in the form of The Man’s son. The Boy grew up in a world swimming in violence and disillusionment, but having never seen Earth pre-apocalypse he still has hope, and it is his fight to remain decent that becomes the one thing preventing The Man from becoming the bad guy he’s desperately trying to avoid. The film is entirely focused on this struggle and their relationship, with other characters weaving in and out of their lives. Cameos from Garrett Dillahunt, Robert Duvall, Michael K. Williams and Guy Pearce are stunning in both how brief they are and also how strong they are, supporting the excellent turns from Mortensen and Smit-McPhee admirably. These characters add to the gritty, horrible realism of the film, painting a world fuelled by mistrust and fear by displaying the mud-caked, manky-toothed, diseased remnants of the human race without pretension, as if showing us the future if such horrors did actually hit the world.

There are some extremely horrible ideas and scenes within The Road, with suggestions of cannibalism making most zombie movies seem tame by comparison. One scene in a “larder” is especially disconcerting, and it forces you to confront the reality of what would happen if the world did run out of food.

The Road could be accused of being meandering, but it is wilfully meandering, and thoroughly watchable. Your hopes are always with the two protagonists, praying their journey South won’t be as hopeless as it’s suggested it will be. It is only the flashbacks of Mortensen and his wife (a character named Woman) played by Charlize Theron that tend to sit ill within the films structure. Theron looks out of place within the feature‚Äôs framework, perhaps because she is clean-faced and horribly unsympathetic, and although it helps explain Mortensen’s actions, these scenes of the past seem slightly unnecessary. In esssence The Road is about hope, and how desperately we need it to survive, and this is given without didacticism, but with dignity and intelligence.

Dark, grim, stunning and alarmingly beautiful, The Road is an excellent film. It may seem plot-less to some, but it cannot be argued that it is fantastically well acted and brilliantly directed, creating a horribly believable future. Thrilling, disturbing and very well made. Watch it.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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