TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2009 Review: John Hillcoat's The Road
by Alex Billington
September 7, 2009
Beautifully bleak. That's the best way to describe John Hillcoat's The Road, which I saw yesterday evening in Telluride. Although it's a rather depressing story overall, it's told with such an incredible amount of vigor and passion, that it's actually possible to enjoy. Especially because director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall made sure to keep the integrity of Cormac McCarthy's novel intact and stay as true to his words as possible. It seems like a near impossible book to adapt, but they did the absolute best job they could. For as bleak as it was, I was never bored, and it was never bland at all, which is quite an accomplishment.
Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where every tree is burnt out or dead, nothing but greyness remains, and the sun never shines, The Road is about a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). It's a story about these two and their relationship as they keep walking down the road to reach the coast. This world is filled with savages, cannibals who band together in groups and survive by killing others, hunting whoever they find and scavenging through houses, cars, and shopping malls. But the father and son want to be the "good guys" and they just keep on pressing on, trying to survive each and every day.
This is a very hard film to write about, at least for me. The focus is not on the apocalypse, but solely on the relationship between these two. While it's not necessarily a thriller, there are numerous tense moments, just because you never know who is going to be around the corner or off in the distance. It didn't take long for me to really care for their struggle to survive, since it's so desperate. You feel every triumph and every scare. This wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the stellar performances from Mortensen and newcomer Smit-McPhee, who together make up a family that will be tugging at your heart throughout most of the film.
Although it's best described as beautifully bleak, The Road still is a great film, with wonderfully conceived dreary cinematography, a superb attention to detail, a heart-wrenching story, but with performances that will leave you convinced these two really are father and son. It's hard to fall in love with, just because the nature of the story, but it doesn't disappoint. If you're looking for a fantastic film to see this fall, this is it.
Telluride Rating: 8 out of 10