Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Video review: "The Road"
A Man. A Boy. We know they are father and son, because they call each other so, but we never learn their names. They're bedraggled and filthy, their cheeks caved in with dire hunger, as they push their meager possessions in a rusty shopping cart down an ash-strewn road, with the threat or horrendous death around every turn.
That's the bleak yet uplifting world of "The Road," one of 2009's best films -- which almost no one saw because it barely got released in theaters.
It's out on video now, and I urge people to give this spare, understated near-masterpiece a chance.
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smith-McPhee star as the pair struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Taking a cue from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") underplays the performances and the dialogue. Screenwriter Joe Penhall lets the emotional drama assert itself without superfluous embellishment.
We're not even sure what turned the world into such a forbidding expanse of death and decay. Nuclear war seems likely. It's not even clear where the man and boy are heading, other than trying to escape winter's grasp and endure another day.
They meet other humans, but most of the time it's not a welcome occasion. With nothing able to grow, much of mankind has resorted to cannibalism for food. It's a zero-sum game whose only conclusion is humanity's extinction.
But among all this crushing bleakness, there is joy and tenderness that is exhilarating.
Robert Duvall and Charlize Theron have brief but powerful roles as, respectively, an ancient man they meet along the road and the wife and mother who deserted them, giving up all hope and abandoning them to her despair.
Extras are the same for both Blu-ray and DVD versions.
There is a making-of documentary and several deleted scenes, as well as a feature-length commentary track by Hillcoat.
I'm actually rather perturbed at how "The Road" was received. Its release was delayed for about a year, perhaps because in the then-new economic devastation, the studio rationalized that audiences wouldn't greet such a downbeat film with much enthusiasm.
Prove them wrong.
Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars