The Road

Movie Review: 'The Road'

Kodi Smit-McPhee, rear, and Viggo Mortensen star in
Kodi Smit-McPhee, rear, and Viggo Mortensen star in "The Road." (Macall Polay)
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By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 2009

"The Road," the highly anticipated and much-delayed adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, aspires for greatness. And in many ways it succeeds, from its stunning visual design and sensitive performances to its overarching tone of mournful spiritual reckoning. But like "No Country for Old Men," which is also based on a McCarthy book, the philosophical and aesthetic seriousness of "The Road," while admirable, serves mostly to point up the essentially shallow mannerisms of the source material they serve.

Among McCarthy's blessings here is Viggo Mortensen, who delivers a haunting, deeply felt performance as a nameless man leading his young son (newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee) through a landscape charred by an unspecified disaster. The terrain they travel is limned in grays and browns, barren trees crashing to the ground with indiscriminate hopelessness. It's also dotted with roving bands of survivors reduced to cannibalism, a last resort to which the man and the boy steadfastly refuse to succumb.

Even with the momentary visual relief of flashbacks to an earlier happier life (featuring a lambent Charlize Theron), "The Road" finally resembles little more than a highfalutin' zombie movie with literary pretensions. Director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") deserves no blame for this; he has delivered a handsome, respectful production that will surely please fans of the book. The problem is McCarthy and his gothic, self-serious sense of melodrama. At its best, "The Road" offers a profound portrait of parental devotion and a child's instinctive love of mercy and justice and gratitude, but McCarthy's fatal sense of cruelty and hyperbole make the trip a bummer.

** 1/2 R. At area theaters. Contains some violence, disturbing images and profanity. 113 minutes.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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