The end, when it comes, may look a lot like this – gray skies shrouding the ash-covered ruins of civilization.
And silence. Not a single child laughing, no dogs barking, no birds or even traffic noise. Just the creaking of dead trees, the rumble as some of them crash to the ground.
Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel “The Road” makes for a bleak movie, and director John Hillcoat doesn’t sugar-coat it. The stark setting, minimalist plot and plainly named characters make this a hard – if worthwhile – “Road” to travel.
Viggo Mortensen is The Man, trekking south across the wasteland of America. His simple goal: to keep his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) alive for another day.
They forage through empty houses and abandoned cars, hunting for the last remnants of food in a land where nothing green grows, where no animals survived.
The apocalypse, glimpsed in flashback in one of the movie’s most hair-raising moments, was a series of thumps, a flash of light, and The Wife (Charlize Theron) wondering why her husband (Mortensen) is suddenly filling all the sinks and the tub with water. Whatever happened – and we’re never told – we see it on her face.
The Man and The Boy’s odyssey is largely spent avoiding roving, ruthless bands of cannibals. The Man almost forgets his humanity, something the son, who has only known this world, must remind him of when they meet struggling strangers (Robert Duvall plays one) on their trek.
The Man has a pistol with two bullets – one for each of them should starvation or imminent capture by the cannibals demand it. And he has his memories.
Mortensen breathes life into this faithfully desolate narrative, begging his wife to make it through another day in flashbacks, weeping as he remembers all that’s been lost, struggling to pass on something to his son besides the life he’s fought for years to preserve.
Hillcoat, who did the grim Aussie period-piece “The Proposition,” doesn’t flinch, and that’s a serious drawback here. “Faithfully grim” is not a lot of people’s idea of a good time at the movies.