The Road is a rare commodity in today’s movie industry, an apocalyptic film that relies on subtlety and imagination, instead of CGI and special effects.
It’s the second Cormac McCarty book to be adapted for screen in recent years, following the Coen brothers’ wildly successful take on No Country for Old Men. For The Road, Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition), takes the reigns in the challenging task of converting this haunting, Pulitzer Prize winning novel to film.
The story sees humanity at the brink of extinction as the earth has been left ravaged by an unknown event, millions have died and the remaining few are left with no power, vegetation or food. We follow an unnamed man and his boy and their struggle to survive day by day as they make their way South in hope of a better (or even just warmer) life. It’s a harrowing, yet thoughtful tale, which instead of relying on huge catastrophic moments (asteroids hurtling towards earth, volcanoes erupting from the land), decides to almost ignore the apocalyptic event and focus on humanity’s reaction in the aftermath. Hillcoat’s dramatic moments develop instead from how mankind copes with the catastrophic situation it finds itself in and the lengths the remaining few go to for survival. There will be no rescue in McCarthy’s apocalyptic vision, no crack team of scientists will save earth this time.
Having read McCarthy’s novel earlier this year I knew how important casting would be for this film, especially the parts of The Man and The Boy. As The Man, Viggo Mortensen carries on from his excellent work in Cronenberg’s latest films, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, with another immense performance. Mortensen shuffles and splutters his way across the frame, body frail, eyes sunken deep into his head, looking every bit like a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. When reading a book you usually create a vision of a character in your mind’s eye that inevitably the film adaptation bares little resemblance to. However, with the The Man in The Road, Hillcoat and Mortensen have got it bang on in my eyes, in fact the casting and realization of characters for the whole movie is inspired. Charlize Theron is her usual excellent self as the The Woman (even though I felt there was too much emphasis on this character in the film, over proportioned compared to the book), Kodi Smith-McPhee does a good job as the The Boy and the cameos from Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce, illustrates just how important these brief roles are to the overall film.
Another vital part of transferring this book from page to screen was creating the desolate, scorched world of McCarthy’s novel and the production team has done a fantastic job in achieving a convincing look. By using locations around the USA that were actually affected by natural disasters (e.g. Katrina hit parts of Louisiana), as well as other cleverly sourced sites (abandoned coal mines and motorways), Hillcoat and his team have created a bleak future for the earth. It’s a world that is extremely cinematic and praise must also go to cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe for his part in creating Hillcoat’s vision, it must have been a real challenge for a DoP to shoot a planet devoid of sunlight.
I know it must seem like I’m obsessed with book to film adaptations and I’ve tried to stay away from it when talking about The Road, but it’s hard not to make comparisons with such an acclaimed book. There are additions to the film that I didn’t really like and there were sections in the book I felt deserved more time in the film. Overall though Hillcoat’s adaptation is a solid, refreshing piece of filmmaking that does justice to an outstanding literary work.