5 Minutes into The Road a man shows his son two bullets in a revolver and details how his son should use one to take his own life. 10 minutes in and the father is pointing the gun at his son's head, mustering up the courage to pull the trigger.
The Road is not a happy film.
In a post-apocalyptic world (the reason for which doesn't need, nor get, an explantion) a Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) struggle to survive in a wasteland of America, searching for anything to eat and trying to evade gangs of cannibals. Their mission; to head South to the coast. Their reason; a fragile hope that life may exist there.
On paper The Road looks like a zombie movie, complete with survivalism, bad people who want to eat you and a complete hopelessness for humanity. But while zombie films are usually a bit of mindless fun with a subtext of social commentary, John Hillcoat's follow up to the excellent The Proposition (this too benefits from a spellbinding Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score) has no time for simple escapism. Instead it's a gripping, immersive tale of a father doing all he can to keep his son alive.
As the father, Viggo Mortensen has never been better. It's the kind of role that should pick up awards (but probably won't) such is his dedication to the cause. The performance is in his frail emaciated body, his weathered face and most notably his distant eyes that rarely let a single tear loose. When they do, the actor has earned it.
As a two-hander between a man and his son the film could easily have fallen without able support from Kodi Smit-McPhee. The newcomer does more than enough to make you believe he is his father's last and final hope. In a glorified cameo as the Wife, Charlize Theron nails the complete hopelessness of her character's plight. Weak? Undoubtably, but purposefully weak. (Speaking of cameo's look out for Michael Kenneth Williams in the final third).
The only criticism would be that the film promises more than the ending allows. When a film starts bleak and has it's most uplifting moments in the final stages of the second act, the audience prepares itself for a reversal of an ending that will kick it directly in the heart.
While it's not an ending of rainbows and kittens, the bleakness and struggle is neither absent enough nor overwhelming enough to really leave a mark. So like exiting 'No Country For Old Men' (the previous Cormac McCarthy adaptation) some may find themselves in need of more closure.
This is a minor gripe in a film that can easily stand as the year's best so far. Okay the competetion of 'Did You Hear About The Morgans?' and 'Daybreakers' may not be of Olympic standard, but it may take a while for someone to take the crown from The Road.
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