Movie Review Plus Q & A: THE ROAD

v & k walking macall polay

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

I was really hesitant about going to a Variety screening of The Road (opening Nov. 25), the long-delayed movie based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, because the story is so depressing. It’s about a nameless man and his son trying to survive after the apocalypse by any means short of cannibalism (though other survivors engage in that). But star Viggo Mortensen was doing Q & A afterwards along with director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall so I was curious enough to attend. (I learned loads of interesting info; see notes below.)

v & k embrace

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

Well, depressing doesn’t begin to describe the movie. There’s an ongoing reference to how The Man has a gun but only two bullets, which he’s saving for his son and himself in case things get too hopeless for them to go on. Mid-movie, I was screaming in my head, “Give me one of those bullets! Or build a fire and throw me on it!” The story is soul-breaking and gives you only a tiny glimmer of hope at the end.

Stomach-turning plot points aside, however, Road is very well done. Mortensen goes deeply inside a character who’s heart-piercingly tender towards his son but fierce towards all else. He also looks like he ages and becomes more emaciated right before our eyes. Kodi Smit-McPhee, as The Boy, does brave and mature work while maintaining the innocence of a child who’s never known a world where there were living things and enough food to eat. He does look a bit well-fed for the character—his cheeks have baby fat and his lips are plump—but I don’t think I could’ve handled watching a gaunt, sickly child on top of everything else.


courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

Charlize Theron is believably weary as The Woman who just can’t take it anymore, though I suspect her golden hair helped a little in getting her the role. In The Man’s dreams about the life he used to have with her, the world is full of color and The Woman’s bright, shiny hair is the most striking thing in it. It’s a sharp reminder of the lightness he’s lost.

The story asks tough questions: How do you hang on to your humanity when you’re competing with savages to survive in a lawless world? What are you willing to do to keep your child from suffering? How do you know when the last ounce of hope has left your soul? While I hope I won’t ever be tested like this, I appreciate McCarthy’s and the filmmakers’ examination of human nature in a non-sentimental way which still manages to be quite moving.

As mentioned, Mortensen, Hillcoat and Penhall did Q & A after the screening. The session was almost as fascinating as the movie. Some things I learned:

  • Director Hillcoat’s favorite disaster movie is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. He was also inspired by The Bicycle Thief for its minimalism and The Grapes of Wrath.
  • landscape

    courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

    Though the landscape is stark with a gray and brown palette throughout, Hillcoat used real locations instead of green screens. Locations included Pennsylvania because of the strip mining and Louisiana because Katrina clean-up was far from complete. There were about 50 locations total.

  • Mortensen said he was cold for real during much of the shoot. Hillcoat told him it’s better to be cold than to pretend to be cold.
  • Mortensen is humble, smart, dry-witted and so frakkin’ cool in person. He’s got the easy confidence of someone who’s got nothing to prove to anyone, and brought a copy of the book and a bottle of wine to give out to random audience members who correctly answered trivia questions about the movie.
  • Penhall said he loves Sam Shepard as a screenwriter and it’s easy to see why. Both men cover complex and gritty subject matter in minimalistic ways.
  • McCarthy told Hillcoat he didn’t miss anything from the book except four lines of dialogue which he asked to be re-inserted. It involved The Boy asking The Man, “What would you do if I died?” The ensuing conversation is verbatim from one the author had with his own son.
  • Hillcoat said McCarthy’s favorite film is Fellini’s La Strada, which means The Road.

Nerd verdict: Rough Road but one worth taking

22 responses to “Movie Review Plus Q & A: THE ROAD

  1. Not even Viggo Mortensen can appeal me into seeing this one, PCN. I don’t watch movies to be depressed ~ even if they are profound and thought provoking. I appreciate you taking the bullet {or not, as it turned out} and seeing this so that I don’t have to. I owe you another bucket of fried chicken.

    • I couldn’t pass up Aragorn bait plus I vote for the SAG Awards so I try to see as many films as possible. Take away those reasons and I wouldn’t be rushing to the theater for this, either. But I’m glad I did because now I get more chicken!

  2. Seems very dark, but I admit – I want to see it!

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      I don’t think you’ll be disappointed but yes, be prepared for the relentless darkness.

      How’s NaNoWriMo going for you?

  3. I read this book long ago. I think I cried. Don’t think I can handle any more end of the world stuff right now. Love Viggo’s work, but I’m not sure I can deal with this right now. Not gonna see 2012 either.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      It’s funny you mention 2012 (I’m not seeing it, either). Viggo said most disaster movies are about special effects and how much destruction they can put on display. This makes the viewer a spectator only, not someone who’s drawn into the movie and made to feel something. He didn’t call out 2012 specifically but I think that’s what he was referring to.

      I’m with you on end-of-the-world stuff. Anxiety isn’t my idea of entertainment.

  4. Love your movie reviews! I want to see The Road, but at home where I can turn it off for a bit if it overwhelms me. Feel the same way about the movie Precious. Must sees – but some place where I can blubber in private.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Thanks, Sue Ann! I understand how you feel. As I mentioned to Shell, I had reasons for attending this screening and none of it was an expectation of being entertained. Moved? Yes. Impressed? Yes. Entertained? Uh, no.

      Every year there’s a film I have to work up my courage to see. Several years back, I received a screener of Hotel Rwanda and it sat on my shelf for a month and a half before I felt brave enough to watch it. Don Cheadle was great in it but…yikes.

  5. Great review, PCN. I have THE ROAD on audiobook, but have had the same reaction to the premise (hence, the reason I haven’t started it). Good coverage of the Q & A, afterward. I really appreciated Viggo as an actor ever since I saw him as the SEAL Master Chief in Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane. He was fantastic in Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and I’m not surprised he did good work in this. Thanks for this, PCN.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Oh yeah, he was awesome in Eastern Promises! And I’m not saying that because he was nekkid. In fact, I couldn’t watch that fight scene, covered my eyes and had my husband narrate what was happening.

      I can’t believe you saw the craptastic G.I. Jane (you like movies about SEALS, don’t you?) but he was cool in that, too. I read an early draft of the script and thought it was kickass before it got changed to the final version. The ending was different and made a bigger impact emotionally.

      • You got all of the good inside scoop, PCN. I saw G.I. Jane because it was a Ridley Scott film, primarily (but SEALs and Demi made for a interesting combination, I admit). I always thought the of story didn’t quite go in the direction I thought it would. Would have been nice to see the story from that early draft instead of what ended up on the screen. Thanks, PCN.

  6. Nice review. I’ve been planning to see it even after I knew what it was about, because I love Viggo, and see anything he’s in. I did read the book, which I rarely do, and was very depressed at parts, and openly bawled at the ending.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Welcome, MLD, and thank you. I haven’t read the book but the movie’s ending made me cry, too. The man next to me had read the novel and said the movie is faithful to it, “almost to the letter.”

  7. saw it at a afi event in la. Loved the movie and really loved Viggo in it. The young boy is also great, Yes its depressing and tough to watch but so worth it.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Hi gerdy, you managed to review the movie succinctly and effectively when it took me 500 words! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Thank you PCN for attending to the movie screening, Just last week I asked you if you had any recent news about Viggo Mortensen! I read the book The Road about a year ago and it was so sad, I was suffering the whole time for the two characters the father and the son in a world of devastation, considering their next suicide or to be murdered at any minute while fighting to get any kind of food. It was so real and completely terrifying. I don´t think the script could be changed, not even a word from it. It must have been easy for the screenwriter to make the adaptation. It makes me think also about the way some writers see the future. Is that how its going to be like? I hope not.
    About Viggo he can do anything, I absolutely believe when he says that he was feeling cold because he lives the way the character lives during the filming of the movie. I understand that he is saying that this movie has no special effects, you don´t see the catastrophical destruction of the world for your enjoyment in this movie, you see two characters who love each other unconditinally suffering and facing the situation. Thank you for your review. I understand why it mas have been hard for you to watch this movie and I haven´t decided yet If I´m ready to go to the theater for this. Even when Viggo is in it.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Thanks for this, norma. If the future looks anything like the one in The Road, I don’t want to be around for it. You’re braver than I for reading the book. The movie was terrifying but at least it was over in two hours.

  9. Wow, that was a hard experience for you, PCN, thanks for sharing!
    The story seems captivating, I think I will see that one, no matter how sad and difficult it may be! I’m a Viggo fan (not only is he a good actor, but he is also a multi-talenteded artist and a smart guy!), plus I like movies which give me emotions, whether it’s pleasure, joy, fear or sadness. I may sound a bit masochist, but for me the power of good movies is to provoke reactions and feelings, even hard ones. It can sometimes be trying or disturbing, but it can also help you understanding things, changing your point of view on various subjects or just remembering that it’s a blessing to be healthy and alive!
    Anyway, the book sounds very good too (though probably even more difficult) and I wonder if I should read it first or later (or if I should ever read it)!

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      You’re spot-on, Julien. Sometimes I wonder why I read or watch something that’s really depressing and it’s probably because I just want to be moved, whether it’s to laugh or cry. I think we need to be reminded that we have the capacity for empathy and compassion.

  10. I don’t think that I’ll watch the movie. I attempted to read the book, but found it drab and depressing and set it aside. That was the same reason that never finished Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach”. I like my post-apocalyptic books more happy and carefree. Well, that’s not true, but I like them to make an attempt at giving the reader hope.

    When I was in college, I read a lot of end-0f-the-world-as we-know-it books, so here a few suggestions less depressing than “The Road”:

    “Alas Babylon” by Pat Frank
    “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart*
    “Farnham’s Freehold” by Robert A. Heinlein
    “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson
    “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Larry Niven*
    The Pelbar Cycle by Paul O. Williams (a series of seven books set 1,000 years after a global nuclear war, starting with “The Breaking of Northwall”)*
    “The Stand” by Stephen King*

    *My favorites

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Haha! Funny comment about how you like your post-apocalyptic reads to be happy & carefree. Then I want books about poverty to be uplifting!

      Thanks for this list. I haven’t read any of them save for The Stand because end-of-the-world stories give me nightmares, but someone else here might find your suggestions helpful.

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