MOVIES IN THE BLIND SPOT: The Road
BLIND SPOT REVIEW #5: The Road
Going back and seeing the movies I should have seen or always wanted to see, but missed.
How did it get to my "blind spot?"
This is simply a movie I missed when it was in theaters a few years ago. It played in limited release and was a bit hard to find. Despite the presence of Viggo Mortensen and Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, the film had a whisper of marketing. It didn't ping the radar that strongly.
Why should it be seen?
The Road is arguably the rawest post-apocalyptic movie to come down the Hollywood pipeline. It definitely skews away from the blockbuster trappings that most films of this sub-genre occupy. It's artistic credibility is worthy of being seen.
Background: The Road is based on author Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel. Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, Lawless) sought to keep the novel's bleak and dark vision of the future and succeeded. Filmed through the backwoods of Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, the movie thrives on a visual tone to keep things as bleak as the subject matter.
In the not-to-distant future, an unexplained off-screen catastrophe has nearly razed the planet of most plant and animal life, causing domestic civilization to crumble to squalor. Cannibalism has kept pockets of humans alive and most die of starvation. We witness this future through the eyes of an unnamed father and his young son, played by Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In). We learn in flashbacks that they used to be part of a strong family with Charlize Theron as the mother and wife. Their past plays out far different than their present and those clues are revealed throughout the film.
With the goal to walk to ocean coast in hopes of warmer weather and less harsh conditions, the man and his son are hiking south in the eastern United States in hopes of scrounging for food and avoiding the cannibalistic raiders that ravage the weak. They tote their few possessions while the father continuously coaches his son on what it will take to survive in this world. Their only saving grace is a revolver with two bullets, one for each of them if they are cornered and facing certain brutal death.
Reaction: 2 STARS-- You read all of that right. Bleak and grim are understatements. One reviewer in particular called The Road "arguable the least commercial product in recent Hollywood history." It's hard to come away liking a movie with this little innocence or hope. I do respect that this tone was intentional and accurate to McCarthy's novel. That I understand and appreciate. As bleak as it is, it wouldn't be right to take his work and chipper it up just for Hollywood's sake.
The Road does have a haunting presence and poetry thanks to the flashbacks that show somewhat happier times, but even those scenes are mired by conflict. The rough outdoor cinematography and production design is otherworldly when the detail required to create this movie's landscape compares to the fakery of big budget green screen creations in other, larger films.
Mortensen really lays it all out in a tragically powerful performance. The man has always been an underrated performer and this role adds to his deep resume of dynamic success.
All of those qualities are reasons to respect what Hillcoat and company had done, but it's just too dark for my tastes. The Road, between its subject matter and pace, is a difficult movie to watch without squirming in your couch and checking your watch. I'm not saying it had to be a roller coaster, but I needed a more powerful message than the one that came out of this film. It's just so bleak that the message gets lost.
LESSON #1: TEACHING THE YOUNG HOW TO SURVIVE FOR THEMSELVES IN ADVERSE CONDITIONS-- The ever-constant teaching of the father is the breadth of this overarching life lesson. The father is always trying to steer his son in a hopeful and strong direction. The boy needs a parent and Mortensen provides that stalwart presence. He teaches with a strong compassion that is equaled by the strict realities of their situation. While he acts to shield his son, few things get sugarcoated. He's quick to remind his son about those last two bullets and their purpose.
LESSON #2: MAINTAINING WHAT MAKES YOU ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS-- The familial roots of the father's compassion and his personal drive to protect his son are what keep him from spiraling down with the rest of what remains of humanity. While other survivors have selfishly turned to thievery and (worse) cannibalism, the father always preaches the morals to remain "one of the good guys" to his son. He teaches his son to live and identify right from wrong.
LESSON #3: CARRYING THE FIRE OF HUMANITY ONWARD WHEN HUMANITY CRUMBLES-- The last teachable doctrine of the father comes when he speaks about the fire of humanity. He knows that visual of warmth creates a strong imagery connection for his son. He emphasizes that merely surviving is not enough, but that a man should live and live humanely as to not revert to the animalistic tendencies that they see around them.