When I first read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the two words that best described my experience was both harrowing and hopeful. It's a tough job to do when the story is about society completely being shut down and it seems that there is no hope for humanity. When I heard there was a film version in the works, I immediately wondered how the sparse novel with intense imagery and a very thin story arc would transfer to film. After much reading and over a year and a half of waiting, John Hillcoat's adaptation of The Road is a fantastic adaptation; one filled with dedication to the novel's heart and it's extreme attention to detail. After delay's in production, we finally get a chance to see the story come to life. The two most important parts of this film is the portrayal of a landscape scorched by unknown forces and to get across the relationship between father and son. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe capture the essence of the scorched Earth that is so integral to the story. Only for a few minutes do we get a glimpse of the world we once knew filled with greenery, flowers and animals, but those flashbacks are fleeting and the gray and brown world filled with haggard faces and even worse environmental damage prevails. The dreariness is tiring putting the viewer in the shoes of the man and his son. It's a difficult film to watch but it all lends itself to the deeper meaning
The visuals are extremely important to this film, but the real heart and the story revolves around the relationship of father and son. Viggo Mortensen in easily the role of his career plays the Man who is guiding his son, newcomer Codi Smitt McPhee, to find a safer and happier tomorrow. Day after day the scavenge for whatever possible food might be lying in abandoned homes and farms. These possible places for food are also possible traps and many times the two will find more than what they asked for. Mortensen plays his father figure with a very stoic yet heartfelt demeanor. When it comes down to survival or even possibly having to take his and his son's life, you see every ounce of his being on his face. His bedraggled hair, emaciated body and constant hacking cough are the physical attributes that he brings to the character but it's in the crackle in his voice and the drive to succeed in his eyes that makes the performance have some more depth. McPhee also tends to steal the show at times. His naive nature and innocence brings the ray of light to an otherwise bleak story. Having only known a world of chaos and destruction, his knowledge of the world is narrow and shows even more so in scenes where artifacts from a long ago lost time come creeping up and then disappearing. A can of soda is a hoyl grail in his eyes, even if he will only have just one Coke for his whole life. The acting goes further in two extremely intense and eye popping cameos. Robert Duvall may have earned himself an Oscar as the Old Man wandering the road. His few minutes on the screen are filled with brilliant observations of society and life and yet we can barely tell udner the glassy blinded eyes and completely worn face that it's even Duvall. The other best cameo is delivered by Michael K. Williams from The Wire. As the theif, we see one of the most intense moments in the film. Not in action but in reaction to what has happened. It's a beautiful site to see the small child sympathize with even a common criminal, but in desperate times you can't be sure what is right and wrong. It's an incredible lesson and one of the best scenes in the film.
The Road doesn't follow traditional story arcs and doesn't have a clear set plotline. The conflict arises in each characters destiny and decisions in a world completely in ruins. The conflict is situational and the end result much more realistic then anything Hollywood can conjoure up. And thankfully from transfer to page to film was smooth with very little liberties taken minus a few that enhanced the emotional attachment of the characters. John Hillcoat is far and away one of the best directors to watch in the future. With just The Proposition and The Road in his catalog, he has done nothing short of brilliant work.