22 December 2009

At the movies: The Road.

The Man (Viggo Mortensen) has only his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), though both are haunted by memories of a woman (Charlize Theron).

Together they wander the remnants of what we know as life.

Taken from Cormac McCarthy's best-selling (and Oprah Book Club-approved) novel, The Road is a dark vision of life after an unexplained cataclysm has wiped the majority of life from the planet, leaving an earth that is both scorched and drowned.

Our infrastructure stands amidst dead forests and black seas, as cannibal thieves and the dishevelled wreckage of humanity scurry through the streets. But where do you go when there's nothing left?

Advance word on The Road has been conflicted, which is actually quite suitable, because the film itself doesn’t dole out much conflict; it’s more situational.

This kind of slow-burn mood piece depends on striking the right tone, and during the film’s two year post-production phase, adjustments have been made here and there to balance out the relentless dour tone of the novel and earlier versions of the film. It isn't fair to judge a film on what might have been, but something here just doesn't feel quite right.

The Road is ambitious, and a faithful representation of the book (all the way down to its choppy, episodic structure). Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe also shot The Others and New Moon, so he knows overcast and oppressive better than most, and Mortensen is, as usual, quite good. But there’s a sense that something’s off balance with the film- moments of occasional happiness are dwelled on, the score is overpowering and at odds with the material, and the ending kind of craps the bed.

But The Road is still the kind of experience we need at the movies, bleak and occasionally incisive. It's just a bit too eager to be valued for its end, and if there's anything that years of studying human nature have taught us, it's that the end never justifies the means.

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