*The Road (R)
Chapel Hills 15
At last: The long-delayed, Viggo Mortensen-intensive adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, about a man and his young son wandering through a glumly gritty post-apocalyptic world, has arrived. And just in time to kick off the holiday season! Here's a movie to remind you what to be thankful for.
"Each day is more gray than the one before," Mortensen's nameless character solemnly narrates early on. He's not lying. Unless, that is, you consider it a lie of omission that he doesn't say each day is also, correspondingly, more brown than the one before. The Road may be the grayest and brownest movie ever made.
And it is starkly beautiful, in just such a way as to warrant the mention here of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, even prior to the mentioning of screenwriter Joe Penhall or director John Hillcoat. As reticent appreciators, the latter two shouldn't mind.
Probably aware that movies have by now rendered trite the notion of coping with life after an apocalypse (partly through requisite flashbacks to before the apocalypse), Penhall and Hillcoat figure this will be one that spells nothing out. McCarthy set that precedent in his book, apparently because if mankind must insist on besmirching its own dignity, the author who makes a point of this seems magnanimous when allowing at least for the dignity of narrative restraint.
And so we see a ruined city, and some vestigial carnage (not to mention a couple of off-screen butcherings), but the details of what actually happens remain artfully obscured. It is rather proudly the opposite of a Roland Emmerich film.
All we really know is that earthquakes are involved. And that most of our species — in America, at least — didn't make it. And that Robert Duvall, with his soulful, turbid eyes, saw it coming. But of course he did. He's Robert effing Duvall. Small roles in The Road are like food: precious, savored. There's one for Michael Kenneth Williams, whom you may recall as Omar from The Wire, and one for Guy Pearce, too.
As for the big role, it might be called the performance of Mortensen's career, if only because he seems most in his element when a) greasy-haired, b) occasionally nude or c) both. The Road is always there for him, as he is for it.
Here's another Cormac McCarthyish thing Mortensen's character says: "All I know is the child is my warrant. And if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke." The child is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee — quite well, given what might be the most potentially traumatizing role for a young actor since Danny Lloyd was cast in The Shining. He's also quite feasibly the offspring of Mortensen and Charlize Theron, who plays the boy's mother.
One quibble: For all of The Road's reserve, maybe there's a tad too much talk of what it means to be "the good guys," namely, "carrying the fire." Ah, and just look what we've done with that flaming gift from Prometheus, whose reward for giving it to us was torture.
Well, if this road really is the one ahead for humanity, he can consider us even.