The Road (2009)
By: Captain Red Eye on February 28, 2011  | 
Icon | Region B | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | 111 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce
Screenplay: Joe Penhall
Country: USA
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Largely overlooked by cinemagoers and having barely managed to recoup its comparatively modest budget, John Hillcoat's 2009 post-apocalyptic drama The Road stands as a characteristically daring choice of directorial outing for the Aussie auteur, whose previous films include such uncompromising fare as Ghosts... of the Civil Dead and the dusty, bloody and highly lauded The Proposition.

The film sees a nameless fellow (Mortenson) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wandering a desolate wasteland ravaged beyond recognition by some nameless cataclysm. Animal and plant life have been all but eradicated, the sun largely obscured, and the last remnants of humanity are resorting to cannibalism in their desperate attempts to avoid a starvation which, under the circumstances, might be considered something of a blessing.

The bedraggled pair head southward in search of warmer climes and a reason to keep breathing, fighting an increasingly onerous battle against boredom and hunger and attempting to avoid the unwelcome attentions of fellow survivors. The man is continually beset by memories of his dead wife (Charlize Theron, whose character evidently looms much larger in the film than the book), though despite the horror of inhabiting a dying world is determined to instil in his son a reverence for life and humankind.

Having never read the Cormac McCarthy novel upon which Hillcoat's latest effort is based I can't make a cogent comparison of the written material with the filmic interpretation, such as was offered on this site's review of the DVD edition of the film. What I would say is that Viggo Mortenson is such a disciplined thespian that simply watching him ply his craft is akin to doing several dozen pushups. Even his name possesses the mysterious, intangible potency of a crone's arcane incantation: 'Viggo' suggests vigour, the sort of sharp-syllabled exhalation uttered by a Streetfighter character after delivering a particularly solid blow to the midsection, while 'Mortenson' implies a long descendency from backwoods hillbillies and bog people. In spite of this (presumed) lineage, however, the actor possesses the rare ability to rock a suit, leather gloves and sunglasses with as much aplomb as unkempt hair, jeans and shitkicker stubble. Or, as is the case here, a hobo beard and apparel so grungy that Kurt Cobain, presuming he was still alive, wouldn't be caught dead in it.

The Road would be a contender for most depressing film of all time if it weren't so impressively shot, and if a less able thesp than Mortenson was at the helm. As it stands the cinematography and effects are absolutely peerless, and the manner in which Hillcoat, lensman Javier Aguirresarobe and their crew have wrung so much beauty and poignancy out of what is a burnt-out, butt-ugly and decidedly hostile shell of a world is nothing short of astonishing.
HD can be an unforgiving mistress. On the Blu-ray edition of his latest film The Edge of Reason, for instance, beleaguered Mel Gibson looked like a geriatric lizard, with every crack and fissure in his prematurely wizened face laid bare in a way that wasn't as harshly apparent on the DVD. No wonder Hollywood starlets were reported to be flocking to Botox clinic in droves when the new format began to take hold. Anyway, the added depth and clarity of the Blu-ray format are put to brilliant use here. As appears to be universally the case with Icon HD releases the transfer is impeccable, the detail sharp and the black levels rich, nuanced and devoid of blur or pixilation – something of a bonus in a feature as visually sombre as this one. Hillcoat employs a monochrome palette on the post-apocalypse scenes – I was heretofore unaware that so many shades of brown and grey existed – and cleverly contrasts this with the odd burst of hyperreal colour during the flashback sequences. Both are rendered superbly on Blu-ray, and the clarity and consistency throughout can't be faulted.
The score comes courtesy of longtime Hillcoat collaborator Nick Cave and his right-hand Seed Warren Ellis. It's a fluid, typically virtuosic affair, alternatively spartan and cautiously lush, and neatly encapsulates the sense of loss and displacement experienced by the central characters. No complaints on the audio front; the DTS-HD soundtrack is crisp and the dialogue clear.
Extra Features
No BD exclusive content unfortunately. The two principal bonus features of the DVD, namely an unexceptional 12-minute Making Of and a markedly more interesting 14-minute Featurette entitled Walking Into Darkness are both on offer here, along with a stills gallery.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
That Mortenson is an immense talent, a skilful interpreter and a deft and chameleonic screen presence is beyond question. All his powers are on display in The Road, brought to the fore by some first-rate direction and further augmented by wonderful visual effects. In addition he's ably backed by his pint sized co-star and cameos from the likes of Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce, with the end result a sparse, grimly poetic and at times unpalatable work of deep emotional resonance.

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