Arts and Culture

'The Road'

Bring provisions for the trip. We're in post-apocalypse-vérité territory.

By Steve Burgess 27 Nov 2009 |

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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Not quite 'Road Warrior.'

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans! Yesterday our southern friends gathered around groaning boards to gorge on turkey, stuff on stuffing, and reaffirm the importance of family. Tonight they can ritually purge by going to see The Road, a tale of starvation, desperation, and doom. But the message is the same. It's all about family.

The Road is Australian director John Hillcoat's adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel. This little fable of a devastated future makes No Country For Old Men look like a musical. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll sweep the theatre floor for stray popcorn and crushed Smarties. I was lying about the laughs.

Viggo Mortenson stars as Man, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son. That would be Boy. Forget about names -- no need for that sort of frippery in this sci-fi scenario. There's been an apocalypse of some unexplained type. We know only that it was natural, not nuclear, and that earthquakes are at least a byproduct of it. Virtually everything is dead or dying. Scavengers roam the countryside -- stragglers, bandits, and worse. Father and son push their way southward through a colourless landscape, headed for what appears to be the Carolinas. Flashbacks feature Charlize Theron as Woman, the third member of this nuclear family. It's clear she didn't make it this far and we wait nervously to find out why. Like so much of this movie, the eventual answer is more true than dramatic.

It was amusing to see the theatrical trailer trying to construct a standard post-apocalyptic cinematic narrative out of this film. But despite some surface similarities, The Road is not The Road Warrior. This is closer to post-apocalyptic cinema verite. There's very little plot, just a lot of struggle and dread. Father and son carry a revolver with two bullets -- one for each of them if a more horrible death looms. Ah, sweet death. As Old Man (Robert Duvall) says about quietus: "It's foolish to expect luxuries in time like these."

And, oh, those wacky mishaps

Unlike the principals, the script does give us something to chew on. The Road puts us all inside that simple scenario so many have speculated about -- how would you behave if everything fell apart? What would pass for morality when human beings are hunting each other for food? What wacky mishaps might ensue when two middle-aged men are suddenly saddled with seven-year-old twins?

Sorry, that last one is Old Dogs with John Travolta and Robin Williams, also on offer to holiday moviegoers this weekend. Apparently Old Dogs is so execrable it will make you wish you had that revolver and its two precious bullets. The Road, by contrast is not a bad film at all. A very good one, I'd say, admirably pure of vision and unsparing in execution, with fine performances from all the leads. It's just not much fun. In fact, the movie's one final note of hope may be its least convincing element -- especially after The Road has spent its 120-odd minutes convincing us that, cell phone ads notwithstanding, the future is not friendly. And next time you see a big table full of holiday grub, you should quietly begin stuffing biscuits and ham down your shirt. There's trouble coming.  [Tyee]

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