John Hillcoat’s “The Road” has astonishing photography/art direction/special effects (and "landscapes", as my friend, Scott Tobias, and many others probably said), stuff that will totally amaze you. Going into the film thinking somewhat lowly of it, I upon seeing the cinematography re-thought my opinion. This may have been the way to start a very good movie, but not everything is as good. Ebert, in his disvalued, retracted review began by quoting Mark Twain: "'The Road' knows the words, but not the music." My moviegoing friend thinks this is absolutely true, and after talking with him, it makes sense why Ebert's said that.
He's gone on to re-rate the film after “seeing it for a second time” it, but I think that won't be the case for me, since I don't believe I'll take another chance on this film (maybe I'll do one of those 'revisiting' things that Nicks Flick Picks does, but, like him, maybe not for a while). Why? Because the scriptwriting (praised by those on Flickster) by Joe Penhall makes me cringe, as Viggo Mortensen is reduced to yelling things at his son in non-McCarthyesque outbursts. Also, Penhall uses lines in the book as touchstones, to give a notice to the audience who read it. But these come out all wrong. Mortensen, who with the rest of the cast Ebert complimented as "the only actors who could have done this," delivers each of these off the mark. Personally, Guy Pearce, if he had done away with the terrible accent he put on, would have been better in the lead role. My friend, who teaches the book and has a very fine idea of how the characters should have been, has a description that Pearce could match. Whatever. My friend and anyone who said that Mortensen at least looks the part is right. Besides his looks, whenever he’s hiding in a ditch, he seems to have the required “desperation” (as my friend said the character should have). And Kodi Smit-McPhee is pretty formidable, I guess, as Mortensen’s son.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, which, hard to believe, may be possible (i.e. you stumbled onto the film), I’ll refresh with a little description. As undoubtedly described this way before, a father (Mortensen) tries to raise his son (Smit-McPhee) despite being in the middle of what my friend aptly described as a “nuclear winter.” He tries not only to protect his son from being killed, but also from being ruined inside, to “preserve innocence” (as a friend would say). They walk towards a “coast” (which sounds a little like “Children of Men”) since the man’s wife/the boy’s mother (Charlize Theron) tells him to go there. Ultimately, as been said before, (I think on the back of the book), “they try to survive.” Such is not easy. “Bands of survivors” (as Owen Gleiberman as well as zombie movies would say) are traveling around, looking for things to eat (humans are not out of the question). Another key fact (stressed by my friend when he originally told me about the book, and also on maybe the back of the book) is that the two only have only two bullets, intended to be so that they can commit suicide at any given time. My friend and I alike both are moved by the scenes where the father teaches the son how to do such a practice.
But I’m blending memories of book and movie together. Ebert noted that this was tough not to do in his new review since he had read so much McCarthy. If I knew nothing about the book, and if he didn’t, and if no one did (i.e. it was an original screenplay), then it would have a much bigger impact. (This happened similarly with “8 1/2” and “Nine” for him.) But, as my friend noted, it’s a “halfhearted” adaptation. It’s abridged. For example, my friend noted the absence of the “bad dreams” while “good dreams” were abundant. The only great thing about it is the way it was shot. However, that's not enough. C+