My review of The Road.

WARNING: Spoilers and spoiler-text ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and do not wish to have any clue or hint revealed unto you, don’t read this post. To view the spoiler-text, move the cursor over the black marks. Also, I didn’t call this “On The Road” because that’s a Kerouac title. I don’t think anyone would mistake one of my blog entries for a modern beat classic, but better safe than sorry.

Here’s the short version of my review: go see it. You’ll like it, but then go read the book. Beware: Cormac McCarthy deliberately uses minimal punctuation in the book.

Here’s the longer version:

On Friday, I was complaining, as I am wont to do, to a buddy of mine that The Road wasn’t playing anywhere nearby. I got online to find the nearest showing and was pleased to learn that finally, some Jacksonville theaters were playing it in about 20 minutes. I hung up the phone in the middle of whatever whatsisname was blathering about,  hopped in the ‘Rolla, drove up to some theater near Regency, bought some Milk Duds, and sat in the middle of the seats.

It’s unusual to find movies that equal or surpass the source material, so I expected to be a little bit disappointed. Well, John Hillcoat directed a decent movie, but sure enough, I was a little bit disappointed.

The best thing about the movie was the casting. Some might say that with a story full of nameless characters with almost no background given, it’d be difficult to screw up the casting. Maybe so, but these actors seemed lifted straight from the pages of the book. Viggo Mortenson was great as the Man–a learned man in the old world, and a desperate scavenger in the new one. He probably could have lost a few more pounds to more fully achieve that starving-to-death-at-the-end-of-the-world look. Kodi Smit-McPhee was a little older than I envisioned when I read the book, but he was excellent as the Boy. Good thing, too–if that role had been miscast, it would have ruined the whole movie because the audience would be rooting for his demise. I was worried that being as young as he is, he would over-emote and be totally void of subtlety. Nope. No problems at all. He wasn’t obnoxiously earnest or overly weepy, he gave quizzical looks that weren’t exaggerated… he was believable. Garret Dillahunt was also believable, disturbingly so, as the gang member in the woods. One could revile and feel great sympathy for Michael K. Williams as the Thief, and Robert Duvall was memorable as the somewhat nihilistic Old Man.

Now, on to the nitpicks:

The cast had two weak links: first, Charlize Theron. Actually, I don’t know if that was a casting problem, or if the director simply mishandled her scenes. She came across as empty and hopeless when necessary, i.e., after the world-ending event, but she came across that way beforehand, too. The end of the world seemed to have no emotional impact on her–she was already doomed.

The other casting problem was Guy Pearce. He looked and acted more like one of the cannibal gangsters from earlier in the movie than he did the Veteran in the book. Perhaps that was the director’s intention: to keep us guessing about whether the Boy would be saved or eaten. But in the book, it seemed that the reader was supposed to know that the Veteran was a good guy, and the question was whether the Boy had developed the judgement and the trust to figure that out. Meh. A minor nitpick.

Music: There was too much music. The only music should have been in the flashbacks, and maybe a piano scene. The music during the present-day scenes kept me from truly absorbing the bleakness of the situation. Maybe the lack of music was an expectation left over from the last Cormac McCarthy movie, No Country for Old Men, but it would have fit this movie a lot better.

Color: I don’t know much about processing film or lighting and such, but there was too much green in this movie. There was too much blue in the ocean. Everything needed to look deader.

Editing: I think the flashback to the night of the event should not have been the very first scene. It should have appeared in roughly the same spot as in the book… somewhat early, but after we’d seen the general condition of the world. After the Coca-Cola incident. After seeing the house the Man grew up in. After some of the Boy’s questions about the old world, to remind us that he’d never known the old world.

For what was supposed to be an R-rated, horrifying movie, the director left out some of the most horrifying scenes. Where was the scene were they hid from the long caravan, complete with gang colors, slave-drawn wagons full of the spoils of war, catamites in chains and marching pregnant women? Where was the man who’d been struck by lightning, who couldn’t be helped? And where was the cannibals’ rotisserie–which also made you wonder a little bit about the pregnant women?

A lot of really good dialogue and narration was missing–I wanted to hear more of the musing over the nature of the world, I wanted to see more of the argument between the Man and the Wife over how (or whether) to handle the new world, I wanted more of the God-talk. Most of all, I wanted to hear the final paragraph of the book read over a shot of trout swimming through a stream, with something green and bright on the banks.

Finally, I didn’t like the change of location for the final scene. McCarthy had the Man die in the woods near, appropriately, the road, with the Veteran approaching from, again appropriately, the road. Hillcoat had the Man die on the beach, with the Veteran approaching from further down the beach. Still a good scene, I just thought that particular scene needed to be truer to the novel.

I must give Hillcoat credit for a particular change from the book: the Man and Boy don’t make a clean escape from the cannibal’s house. Hillcoat’s version of the scene brings the Man’s greatest fear much closer to fruition than McCarthy does.

I’d like to get hold of Hillcoat and the producers and convince them to shoot a few more scenes, shuffle some scenes around, get Viggo to do some more narration and maybe Cormac McCarthy himself to read the final paragraph, but since that is highly unlikely I’ll just make do with this adaptation as is. Overall, I’m glad I finally saw it. The Road is a good movie–go see it. The Road is a treasure of a book–go read it.