First Look: Viggo Mortensen in Cormac McCarthy's The Road
If you know your cinema, you may vaguely recognize the name Cormac McCarthy. He's the brilliant author whose novel was the basis of the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men. One of McCarthy's other highly praised novels is The Road, which is being adapted this fall by up-and-coming filmmaker John Hillcoat of 2005's The Proposition. The Road is a post-apocalyptic story about a father and his son traveling to the coast in search of safety and rescue. While there is much more to the story than just that, we'll leave the discovery up to everyone on their own. The NY Times today has the first look at the atmosphere of the film, which is key, as well as details from Hillcoat and the two stars: Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
The book takes place in a burnt out American wasteland, not long after a nuclear winter has settled in. A father and his son, traveling with only the clothes they are wearing, a pistol for protection, and a cart of scavenged food, slowly make their way down a deserted road in an attempt to get to the coast. They don't know what they'll find there, but at this point, they've got nothing else but each other and the hope that they'll find something at the end that is keeping them alive. NY Times describes the atmosphere best: "The sky is gray, the rivers are black, and color is just a memory. The landscape is covered in ash, with soot falling perpetually from the air. The cities are blasted and abandoned. The roads are littered with corpses either charred or melted, their dreams, Mr. McCarthy writes, 'ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts.'"
One movie that mind come to mind when thinking of what The Road might be like is Mel Gibson's Mad Max. Ideally, to me, it sounds like a combination of The Mist, with its bleak inescapable haze (in The Road it's ash instead), and also, sadly, Neil Marshall's disastrous Doomsday movie, another post-apocalyptic tale. Instead, John Hillcoat assures us its nothing like any of those.
"What's moving and shocking about McCarthy's book is that it's so believable," Mr. Hillcoat said. "So what we wanted is a kind of heightened realism, as opposed to the 'Mad Max' thing, which is all about high concept and spectacle. We're trying to avoid the clichés of apocalypse and make this more like a natural disaster." He imagined the characters less as "Mad Max"-ian freaks outfitted in outlandish biker wear, he added, than as homeless people. They wear scavenged, ill-fitting clothing and layers of plastic bags for insulation.
Another concern, for those who are fans of McCarthy's novel, is how faithful this adaptation will be to the original work. Fortunately, screenwriter Joe Penhall has done a formidable job in staying "extremely faithful" to the story. "The script does enlarge and develop in flashback the role of the man's wife (played by Charlize Theron), who disappears quite early from the novel." However, it "lacks Mr. McCarthy's heightened, almost biblical narrative style," which is thankfully a good thing. Instead, Hillcoat says that some of McCarthy's style and feeling will come from the look, but also from "the nature of the bond between the man and the son," which is made up purely by the performances of Viggo Mortensen as the father and Australian newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son.
The NY Times article continues with a great on-set story about how phenomenal both Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are working together. "Days after the filming of a climactic, emotional scene, people on the set were still marveling at Kodi's performance." Apparently Smit-McPhee has done such a great job that it's caused people on-set to tear up while filming scenes. Mortensen also chimes in with his thoughts on the story and progress.
"It's a love story that's also an endurance contest," Mortensen explains. "I mean that in a positive way. They're on this difficult journey, and the father is basically learning from the son. So if the father-son thing doesn't work, then the movie doesn't work. The rest of it wouldn't matter. It would never be more than a pretty good movie. But with Kodi in it, it has a chance to be an extremely good movie, maybe even a great one."
Based on what I've heard from a friend who is reading this book and this report from the NY Times alone, I'm fairly interested. I'm still not sure what to expect - can a story about two guys traveling down a road in a post-apocalyptic America actually be that interesting? But I suppose there are still many surprises for those like me who haven't yet finished the novel. Considering that both The Mist and Doomsday, two movies that I mentioned The Road reminded me of, weren't that amazing, this has a chance to be an amazing film. We'll be following The Road closely ourselves as John Hillcoat and crew finishes work on the film in time for its Thanksgiving release on November 26th.