The Road DVD review

Glen Chapman reviews the DVD release of The Road, John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's shattering post-apocalyptic novel

The Road is the most recent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s work following the critically acclaimed No Country For Old Men, and 2000’s All The Pretty Horses.

The Road follows the journey of a father and son as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic America that is inhabited by a few survivors, some of which have taken to hunting other survivors in packs in order to cannibalise them. The father and his son have all of their worldly possessions in a shopping cart that they travel with and constantly scavenge for what little food remains.

Although the actual event that triggered the apocalypse is never discussed in any great detail or explained, it doesn’t matter, as the event isn’t what the book or the film is about. It’s about the bond between father and son that’s strengthened as they attempt to survive in the face of constant threat and hostility.

Both The Father and The Son have complete character arcs, but whereas The Father’s goes from protection and remaining unnoticed to behaving in an increasingly questionable manner and getting revenge on those who have wronged him or his son, The Son’s arc sees him gain an increasing knowledge of his surroundings and seeing the best in people in extremely difficult circumstances.

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To convincingly play a character who knows nothing of the world prior to the cataclysm wouldn’t be easy for an experienced actor, let alone a newcomer of such a tender age like Kodi Smit-McPhee. But he’s fantastic here. The bond between him and Viggo Mortensen is never in question as they both play their roles with such conviction. The two leads aside, the film features brilliant casting in all areas with Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Robert Duvall and Michael K. Williams, all putting in brilliant turns in small, but important, roles.

Regular Hillcoat collaborators Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provide a fantastic score to accompany the film. It manages to play such a great part of portraying the emotional journey of the protagonists’ without ever seeming oppressive or overplayed.

The film succeeds on almost every level, but its greatest strength is the creation of the world which its characters inhabit. This is an area where so many films with a post-apocalyptic setting fall down. Take The Book Of Eli, which was released earlier this year, as a fine example of this. In The Book Of Eli, the main characters all looked reasonably clean and fresh making it difficult to get involved on a deeper level and to fully believe that the world depicted was inhabited by the characters, but here in The Road there’s no question that the characters have lived in this world, from the worn and mismatched clothes, the hair and the dirt under their fingernails, there’s no suspension of disbelief required to feel as though they have suffered through life in this brutal landscape for years.

This is a huge credit to John Hillcoat and his team, who went to great lengths to find the perfect locations to depict the conditions described in McCarthy’s novel. Filming took place in four US states and included shooting at Mount St Helens and post hurricane Katrina New Orleans. There’s also use of stock footage that was digitally altered for use in the film.

CGI is used in almost every scene, but it is by no means the draw for the audience’s attention. It’s mostly used to alter the colour pallet of the film and to remove any signs of life from the background and also during the earthquake sequences.

Hillcoat’s direction here is stunning. He beautifully frames the landscapes and draws emotion and tension out of almost every scene. Although the film is brutal at times, a lot of the horror comes from what isn’t shown, as you hear the screams of people out of shot or see the aftermath of acts of cannibalism. It’s rare that the audience sees anything in the film that the protagonists don’t, which is very effective.

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If there’s an area that could have been handled better it would be the use of flashbacks to the protagonists’ life prior to the event that changed their world. Some feel a little forced and affected the mood of the piece, but considering the part they play in the book, it’s understandable why they were included as they were.

The film mostly remains faithful to the source material with a few minor differences and omissions here and there, but the mood of the piece is perfect.

It’s a film that succeeds on a cinematic level and, despite the bleak overtones the story, is at heart really quite beautiful.

This is another fantastic adaptation of one of McCarthy’s novels and one that is without question a trickier adaptation and a harder sell than its critically acclaimed predecessor.

I would acknowledge that The Road isn’t going to be a film that’s to everyone’s tastes. There’s little respite for viewers during this emotionally exhausting film. It is, however, a film that I love and would recommend highly for those who are at all interested in the subject matter.

Extra:

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It’s a case of quality over quantity here with two short documentaries, clocking in at a little over ten minutes each, a feature length commentary with John Hillcoat and a photo gallery of behind the scenes stills being the only offerings.

The documentaries are a ‘making of’ and Walking Into Darkness: John Hillcoats The Road. Both use similar footage from the film, but take different looks at the creative process behind the film. Both are incredibly interesting and are well worth viewing.

The feature length commentary is worth a listen for fans of the film and Hillcoat, as further insights on the creative process are provided.

It would have been nice for some deleted scenes to be included, particularly as there has been mention of a certain horrific scene from the book being shot and included in an early version of the film. It would have been interesting to see how this scene and some of the other material that was omitted from the final cut took shape.

All in all, though, this is a decent package for an excellent film.

Film:

4 stars
Disc:

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3 stars

The Road is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

Rating:

5 out of 5