Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Road

Which road is the one less traveled in a post apocalyptic world? In a dark world where cannibalism has become commonplace, carrying the torch of humanity to light a darkened world is the road less traveled. In a cold greyness that stretches to eternity, where no one can be trusted and everyone competes for scant resources, what level of civility can exist? Two roads diverged in a wood, and The Road takes us down the one less traveled.

A man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) trek across the United States from an undetermined location with a destination of the Southern coast of the United States. Battling hunger, polluted water and bands of hungry cannibals, the duo encounter many close calls in their efforts to survive. The father teaches his ten-year-old essential elements for him to survive. Yet the boy still seems to have a glimmer of humanity that his dad appears to be losing. Although dark and brooding, the story ebbs and flows with a series of tense scenes that are as heart-pumping as they are disturbing. Alternately, we get brief glimpses of humanity and self-sacrifice that keeps the story grounded.

The Road was adapted by Joe Penhall from a novel written by Cormac McCarthy. I have not read the novel, but am certain that it is as gripping and maybe even more disturbing than the screen version. The story provides tension through the ten-year-old son, who seems to be in constant danger and sometimes even compromises himself. The film has superb dialogue, but tells much of the story without words. The situations, scenery and simple expressions tell much of the story. Flashbacks pick up some of the history of the boy, who appears to have been born after the "event." His mother (Charlize Theron) disappears shortly before the journey begins. Her abrupt departure is not fully explained but seems to be alluded to. The complex issues of survival and humanity are balanced through strong character traits and some flaws as well. The plot seems nothing more than having a direction and "going that way." But the obstacles are where the story gets told. An excellent journey that doesn't really end.

Mortensen's character seems well educated, caring and tough. He also seems to have lost his trust in humanity and sees his son as the only hope for the future. Mortensen has that rugged exterior with a kind intelligence in his eyes that balances the opposing forces within his character. It is not a hard sell...the performance simply seems to flow out of him. Smit-McPhee seems to feed off Mortensen's performance, bringing an innocence to his role that makes the concept of a child wanting to commit suicide seem normal. The young actor seemed at ease in his role. Theron had a smaller part, but her struggles are the catalyst that begins this journey and she commits herself fully to that role. In an even smaller role, Robert Duvall makes an appearance as a man traveling the same road. The encounter seems to be an examination of the depths that humanity can sink to and the civility that can still manage to survive. Duvall was spectacular. With just a few minutes of screen time he left an impression. The cast helped keep my white knuckles clutched to my seat.

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