Sunday, November 29, 2009

TRH Movie - The Road

We had saved up our entertainment budget and put our Air Miles to good use (movie passes) so my RRHB said, "why don't we go to the movies." At first, he wanted to go see 2012, and then he actually read the reviews. Looking up showtimes, I noticed that The Road was screening at the Queensway, so I suggested we see that instead -- it took a little convincing. It's honestly one of our favourite books -- and that doesn't happen often. We have drastically different taste in reading material.

This film has so many things working in its favour: excellent source material, Viggo Mortensen, a score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and a director, John Hillcoat, who has a bit of a track record (he directed The Proposition). All the pieces are there, but the film doesn't quite reach its potential. It's too long, and the liberties that they take to adapt it to the screen didn't quite work for me.

Let's pause for a moment because by no means is this a bad film. Quite the opposite, actually, it's a very good film. I just wanted it to be a great film (and so did A.O. Scott).

So, let's start with the positives -- Viggo Mortensen plays the Man, the narrator, the father who takes his only child on the road after the apocolypse, consistently heading south because it means survival. He's excellent: nuanced when necessary, protective, angry, solid, and worthy of the role. The young fellow (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who plays the son was good too -- and the pair, worked significantly well together. There's a lovely balance to the film, don't get me wrong, the story is heartbreaking, between the son who only knows this ravished world and the father who still remembers aspects of what it was like before the cold. The two of them work this contradiction exceptionally well.

For the most part, it's a faithful adaptation of the novel. But there are Hollywood elements that I wasn't sure the story needed: the history of the man's relationship to the boy's mother (played by Charlize Theron), a strange trip back to his childhood home (did I miss that from the book?), and cemented the ending.

In a way, it's these very "movie"-like parts that kind of ruined the film for me -- I wanted more The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and we got a little too much of a film like Gerry. I felt the book deserved something a little more stylized, a little less Hollywood, and a little more reflective of McCarthy's book. More varied dialogue between the two would have helped. It wasn't to be done away with as a minor part of the book sacrificed as a means to pump up the action so the movie could be more broad-reaching. They tended to repeat the same conversations over and over again -- and I remember this differently in the book. The film could have been shorter too -- that's one of the things that I admire about McCarthy's writing -- it's effective because it's so sparse.

One thing about the picture that's utterly worth raving about is the art direction. It's sobering to see the remnants of our civilization laid to waste and even more so to see humanity loose its essence as food becomes increasingly sparse. The whole film feels bathed in this greyish light, burned out fields where trees used to stand, garbage everywhere, stuff that people hold tight to becomes meaningless if you can't eat it -- strands of pearls are stepped on and over and money blows around like paper. The film looks amazing. Truly. Like I said, it's a good picture, totally worth seeing in the theatre, and wholly deserving (fingers crossed) of its Oscar potential.

But, holy crap were there knuckleheads in the theatre with us. It was packed but I'm not sure people knew what film they were seeing. Or taking their teenagers too? Wha? I know! One family left twenty minutes in and the kid beside me was half-asleep before the film ever really started. When the movie was over, the group of drunken middle-agers in front of us stood up and said, "Well, they sure were spare on the action in that weren't they?" I honestly wanted to ask them if they'd even heard of the book, but I held my tongue. Sort of...

2 comments:

Heather said...

Thank you for this review of the movie from your perspective as having read the book. I have a love/hate relationship with the book and had decided I didn't want to see the book ruined and so I haven't gone to see it. I might change my mind now knowing what I'm in for.

John Mutford said...

I've been nervous too. Glad to hear it didn't wholly disappoint. Like you though, I don't think I'd like all the mother parts. Her non-presence in the novel almost felt like a character in itself.