It was just a little over two years ago that “No Country for Old Men” started its brilliant run toward Best Picture status. At the time I knew of Cormac McCarthy, who wrote the book on which “Country” is based, but wasn’t really in touch with his work. So after walking out of “Country,” convinced I’d just seen the best movie of the decade, I started looking into McCarthy’s other works. That’s when I first became aware of a project called “The Road.”
I readily admit that I came late to this party as by this time I’m pretty sure “The Road” was already on Oprah’s Book List (the Mecca of trendiness) and pre-production on the film version was well underway. Still, my interest was piqued and I (like many others) kept tabs on its status. For a while I thought this film might never see the light of day. It was scheduled for a Holiday release last year but was inexplicably pushed back to 2009. At some point I started seeing trailers advertising a mid-October release date. That date came and went and still there was no “Road.” Then November 25th was set as its official release date but when Thanksgiving rolled around I was quite frustrated to see that none of the local theaters were showing it. Eventually I ended up driving an hour away to take this in. This should tell you how badly I wanted to see this movie, considering how much I despise driving in Dallas traffic.
I knew going in that “The Road” was going to be one of those movies that I would not be able to recommend to just anyone, no matter how good it might turn out. Viggo Mortensen plays the aptly named “Man” who is attempting to get his son (“Boy”) down the coast and across the post-Apocalyptic wasteland that the country has become. It is, without question, the most desolate and harsh future-world I have ever seen in a film. Nothing I’ve seen even compares. There is no food, there is plant life, and there is no color: everything is just gray. It is a bleak, grim life that Man and Boy lead as they wonder the country side, hoping to avoid gangs of cannibals almost as much as to avoid starvation. Like I said, it’s not for everyone.
If you can handle the immense depression that “The Road” portrays, however, the payoff is…well, it would be a lie to say it all evens out in the end. It doesn’t. It is a screwed up world that Man and Boy live in and there’s not a lot of big happy endings to go around. It is, however, an astounding example of what a father will do for his son and the extremes to which he will go to ensure not his happiness but his survival. The relationship between the two is profound, though I guess that’s how it would have to be if you were literally the only one or thing the other has.
What I love about McCarthy’s works, what makes his stories so genius is their amazing simplicity. “No Country for Old Men” is just about good and evil and the people who run between the two. “The Road” wastes no time on understanding what has happened to turn the world into such a miserable place or why or how to fix it. It simply IS and the sooner you adjust, the better. There are only two themes here: survival and hope. The survival aspect is easily seen; it is the overriding theme for the movie. “Hope,” on the other hand, hides in “Survival’s” shadow and plants its seeds simply and subtly. There aren’t many overtly hopeful scenes because, whereas some stories use hope as the driving force to a positive outcome, hope is the outcome here; it is the end of “The Road,” as it were. By the end of the movie, however, you know, no matter how dark and depressing it may have been, the point was always “hope.” It is audaciously simple.
Though visually stunning and compelling, “The Road” can only go as far as its lead character can take it. When you’ve only got two real characters and one is a kid, obviously the other one is going to be pretty important. And truthfully, if you’re going to hang your entire performance hat on one guy, there are few better qualified actors than Mortensen. As is almost always the case, he takes on a very challenging, vulnerable role and shines brilliantly. It would be difficult to argue with anyone who would hold him up as the best actor of his generation and his performance here does nothing to tarnish that image.
As I had guessed going in, “The Road” is not a movie I could comfortably recommend to everyone. It is, for lack of a better term, haunting and I never want to see it again. But it may be the best movie I’ve ever seen that I never want to see again. A.
The Plano Cinemark is the biggest theater I’ve ever seen,