Survival Story

The Road offers a grim look at post-apocalyptic life

The Road is an apocalypse movie. But unlike Roland Emmerich's recent 2012, it's not a film about the mechanics of destruction. Rather, it's concerned with the effects such devastation would have on the survivors. As is the case with the Cormac McCarthy book upon which it's based, there doesn't seem to be much hope. Groups of hardened men roam the land in armed bands. With no plants or animals to be found and supplies of pre-disaster canned goods running low, some people have even resorted to cannibalism.

A man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) can barely survive on what scraps of food they can find in abandoned houses and stores. The man tells his son that they are the "good guys." The boy, who never knew the world any other way, thinks they should try to help other people. For the man, putting his son's life ahead of his own and not eating people are about the only moral luxuries he can afford.

This is a grim film, but it's also a good film. The moments focusing on the boy's mother (played by Charlize Theron in flashbacks) add nothing substantial, and a scene involving a rainbow is the kind of cheap, obvious symbolism the book avoids. But for the most part, screenwriter Joe Penhall adapted the difficult (some have said "unfilmable") source material about as well and faithfully as anyone could. John Hillcoat, whose previous film, The Proposition, also dealt with men barely hanging on to their humanity, is a refreshing directorial presence, especially since he doesn't feel the need to over-stylize the film. He prefers to focus on acting and story rather than fancy camerawork and isn't afraid of long (by modern standards, anyway) static shots. Mortensen gives an excellent, understated performance, and young Smit-McPhee is equally impressive. He gives this downbeat tale enough heart and hope to make it bearable. — Robert Ignizio