Observing mayhem and cannibalism, a boy trekking through wilderness with his father after surviving some unnamed holocaust asks, “Are we still the good guys?” This hipster question makes John Hillcoat’s The Road much less credible and thought-provoking than Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds asking, “Are we still alive?” Hillcoat, whose suspicious taste runs toward the apocalyptic (as in the grotesque neo-western The Proposition), should have hit paydirt with Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, but it fits his pretenses almost too well. Pretenses are all we see—unlike War of the World’s post-9/11 symbolism.
Hillcoat fancies himself a cinematic (tuneless) Nick Cave, enthralled with death and mankind’s base nature. The Road doesn’t bother giving many narrative details, it’s simply an on-the-road story as father (Viggo Mortenson) escorts his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to the ends of the earth,searching for food and shelter after civilization has ended.
There’s no zombie movie energy, no Christian metaphor or atomic-age warning—just post-9/11 bleakness. Great junk like Resident Evil and passable schlock like 28 Weeks Later have more skill and integrity. Why would anyone want to make—or watch—this Hillcoat/McCarthy desolation except to feel fashionably cynical? That explains Charlize (Monster) Theron playing mother/wife in sunny, sexy, blond flashbacks. They suggest some Afrikaner’s outtakes from District 9 that don’t convey character but merely the ideology of whites-only pleasure. Theron sets the tone when she attacks Viggo’s helplessness with a perverse sense of blame: “They’re going to rape me; they’re going to rape your son.”
The Road is for gullible viewers who don’t know Bergman’s Shame or Boorman’s Deliverance, two different but superior,culturally-based visions of social collapse and mankind’s brutality. It’s an apocalypse-is-easy sequel for those who liked Children of Men. When Viggo asks Old Man (Robert Duvall), “Do you ever wish you would die?” the sage responds: “This is no time for luxuries.” Yikes! Essentially the same story about a boy’s moral awakening that Otto Preminger told in River of No Return, The Road seems modern only in its resemblance to the Survivor reality-TV show: It proves we got it so good we can pretend to suffer and find deprivation delectable. Its two-hour running time is not intense, it’s drudgery.
Directed by John Hillcoat
Runtime: 119 min.
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