Hank Sartin reviews post-apocalyptic drama The Road, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Adapting Cormac McCarthy’s grim post-apocalyptic novel The Road for the screen is the sort of thing an unwise filmmaker would do on a dare. The power of McCarthy’s writing comes from his control of language, which moves with ease between the terse stripped-down clarity of Hemingway and richer, more lyrical passages. On the screen, at least in Hillcoat’s hands, the mix of despair and philosophical musing on hope feels false and forced.
A man (Mortensen) and his son (Smit-McPhee) are walking across the dying American landscape some years after an unspecified event has killed most animals and plants. They’re headed south, toward the coast, in hopes that things might be better there. The man still believes in “the fire,” that inner spark that symbolizes both basic humanity and the will to survive. He tries to teach this principle to his son, but the farther they go, the more the man’s moral compass is tested. If surviving means losing your humanity, is it worth surviving at all?
Hillcoat wants to be bleak and astringent, but somehow the profundity has been bleached out. Images that should be haunting are paraded before us, one after another, and you can almost feel the film straining to convey its significance.