Director: John Hillcoat (2009)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Cody Smit McPhee, Charlize Theron
If you find that many post-apocalyptic movies end up being a little too cheerful for your tastes, then The Road is most surely the one for you. Based on quite possibly the most depressing book I've ever read, The Road sees a man and his son wandering through post-apocalypse America, very slowly dying as they go. It's to the director's credit that The Road manages to be as uplifting as it is. Especially when you consider that Cormac McCarthy's novel made me want to curl up and cry for a month. And also eat a lot. The Road really makes you appreciate food. Even spam.
The Man (Mortensen) and The Son (McPhee) are survivors of an unnamed, mostly unseen apocalypse. If this is how 2012 is gonna play out then I think I'd rather be dead, since it's a miserable world they live in. They're heading down the eponymous road to the Southern coastline, in the hope that the weather might be nicer and life a little less shitty. Mostly though, The Man is preparing The Son for life without him. He's ill see, and the crappy weather and lack of food really isn't helping matters. To make things worse, they're pursued by cannibal tribes (more subtly done than the likes of Doomsday might portray them) and beset by thieves and untrustworthy types. In flashbacks, we see Man and child's life before things went wrongwise. Before the youngster's birth, we see The Man with his missus - Charlize Theron, as it happens - and watch as she pops out the poor kiddo into their horrible world. Later still, we watch as they grow further apart and The Woman longs for death whilst The Man clings to hope. They're heartbreaking scenes, and it's horrible watching the pair grow apart.
Charlize Theron isn't the only surprising cameo you'll find in The Road, although you may not even notice the others at the time. Robert Duvall plays an old man, and Guy Pearce shows up too. But I was so engrossed in the story, that I truly didn't recognize either of them. It's Father and Son's journey, through and through. They may encounter others on their path, but this is only incidental. Cheesy as it may sound, this is a story of fatherly love.
And it's that sense of love that makes The Road so surprisingly uplifting. There was a real danger that the bleakness and gruesomeness of that world might overpower the characters' relationship, but Director John Hillcoat manages to make McCarthy's message of hope and love shine through it all. And it shines through in a way far less tacky than that cringeworthy sentence made it sound. Sure there's cannibalism and action and misery - lots and lots of misery - but it's The Man's protectiveness and The Son's unrelenting hope and capacity for good in spite of everything that manages to enthrall and captivate throughout.
The Road is a beautiful and haunting movie that truly does its literary origins justice. What with this and the Coens' No Country For Old Men, faithful Cormac McCarthy adaptations really are knocking 'em outta the post-apocalyptic, loony cowboy-filled park. They might not always make for the happiest of viewing, but they'll stick in the memory for a very long time afterwards.