We’re going to need a word which is harsher than “bleak”. The word “bleak” does not do justice to The Road, John Hillcoat’s faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Set in an apocalyptic wasteland of nothing but ugly grey, “Man” (Viggo Mortensen) and his son “Boy” (Kodi Smit-McPhee) struggle with survival where the only point is to survive, and that’s not much of a reason. When suicide is the best thing in the world and the best use of a bullet is to kill your son to make sure he isn’t eaten alive by cannibals, you come to understand that “bleak” just doesn’t get the job done as far as adjectives go. Neither does “hopeless”, “grim” or “dismal”. But perhaps the greatest flaw of The Road isn’t its inability to conjure up dark adjectives, but that Hillcoat completely embraces the journey of his characters: pointless.
When I say “pointless”, it’s not that Hillcoat has nothing to say or that the film doesn’t have clear themes and ideas. It’s just you reach the end of the movie and you’re left feeling destroyed and left with nothing bu a world stripped of life provides almost no incentive to live, or in a word, pointless. That Man clings to his son as their only reason for survival with their quest to reach the coast their only reason to keep moving, there’s not much you can find uplifting. Just as a film which is nothing but sunshine and daisies offers no emotional journey, neither does a film which is unrelentingly word-harsher-than-“bleak”. It’s to Hillcoat’s great credit that he’s still able to derive tension when necessary by finding a situation which would be even worse for Man and Boy than the one they currently inhabit. It’s to even greater credit that Mortensen can find an array of emotions for his character despite the word-more-depressing-than-“hopeless” circumstances.
But ultimately, there’s not much you can take away from The Road. There is the muted-yet-impressive cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe (who also shot New Moon; go figure) as well as the sorrowful tones of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, reminiscent of their brilliant score for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. On a technical level, The Road is a success. Yet when it comes to its story and characters, there’s not a lot you can say once the credits role other than “I’m glad the world outside this theater isn’t a place where death is a blessing,” and “I need a harsher word than ‘bleak’ to describe this film.”
Rating —– C