Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road can breathe easy — the movie is a damn fine adaptation.
In fact, it’s probably one of the best that I’ve seen.
The mood of the book is perfectly captured on-screen, thanks to wonderful sets depicting the ruins of civilisation and the death of nature. Abandoned cities, broken roadways littered with wrecked cars, devastated forests, wildfires and electrical storms all show the grim future. The actual event is barely mentioned, no blame apportioned. It just is.
As in the book, the movie does not provide a strict narrative journey, but rather a series of vignettes marking the progress of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) through this blasted landscape, with flashbacks to the father’s life with his wife (Charlize Theron) before, during and after the calamity fell.
On the road, father and son have to dodge cannibal gangs while they head south, every day a search for warmth, shelter and food. Other stray travellers they meet are viewed with suspicion, providing a crux for the film’s thematic centre.
I felt a little let down by the conclusion in the book, but the movie, while changing it only slightly, manages with deft subtlety to make it work, and work brilliantly. Likewise there are some minor changes to events in the novel, but none are jarring, and all work to enhance the on-screen story.
There were some likely lads in our theatre who might have been expecting some kind of Mad Max/Cyborg storyline, and I suspect by their chatting and quick departure that they left disappointed by this thoughtful portrayal of the hopelessness and drudgery of life on the road. Or maybe they’d got the wrong cinema and only stayed in the hope of Theron getting her kit off — more disappointment, there, boys. But my goodness, doesn’t she just chew up the camera?
The casting (including Guy Pearce and Robert Duvall) was uniformally superb, some actors almost indistinguishable underneath their soot and grime and filthy teeth.
A soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis enhanced the tone without being overly dramatic or sentimental, the camera work was striking without being flashy; there was nothing not to like about this movie.
Director John Hillcoat has delivered an amazing reading of McCarthy’s novel that both readers and non should enjoy.