The Road - Blu-ray Review

'Hilcoat's artistry lacks McCarthy's finesse and beauty'

If you haven't read the Cormac McCarthy book of the same name that John Hilcoat's film, The Road, is based on then you can arguably add another star to the end of this review. Hilcoat's adaptation of McCarthy's post-apocalyptic vision is occasionally darkly beautiful, with several scenes that are well shot by Javier Aguirresarobe and several more that the director manipulates to form tense way point stops for the nameless duo (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) who populate his wasted and burnt landscape.

What the film lacks though, especially if you have read the novel, is a certain atmosphere; a dull greyness, shot through with a pang of depression and finished with the merest hint of hope in ethereal and detached prose. In short, Hilcoat's artistry lacks McCarthy's natural finesse and beauty. The Road is fine but at times it feels processional, whereas the book never did. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee feel like they're doing a sightseeing tour of post-apocalyptic set pieces and depravity, rather than being engaged on an almost biblical, metaphysical, journey of discovery and pilgrimage.

Hilcoat wisely moves events around to generate tension. A confrontation that happens part way through the book occurs much earlier here, helping to provide the characters with visible motivation and the landscape with a much more defined threat. Joe Penhall's screenplay (which, it must be said, is very faithful to the novel and retains some of it directly in voiceover) also seems to choose the elements of human spirit, kindness and original sin versus inherent good as themes to forefront. Smit-McPhee's boy, who doesn't even know what a can of Coca-Cola is when he sees one, is obviously curious about other humans and through him Hilcoat finds some of the film's best moments.

Besides the intangible atmosphere, the core of Hilcoat's The Road is good with great work by both leads and some well disguised cameos late on that feel well placed and well cast. Mortensen's father figure feels knowledgeable but vulnerable (as well he should) and his small segments with Charlize Theron ring true.

What the film has in the basics though it lacks in the things that elevate material like this to greatness. McCarthy re-wrote the post-apocalyptic story with his version of The Road whilst Hilcoat seems at times to attempt to write it back again in a form much closer to a genre flick. What he ends up with is a film that is both a noble and well-intentioned stab at a difficult-to-adapt novel but which, for all its successes, only attains functionality, where McCarthy reached greatness.

Live in the UK? Why not watch The Road at LOVEFiLM, who have recently launched their streaming service to let you watch movies online.

Look further...

'what is most standout about this otherwise flatlined movie is the performance by Smit-McPhee' - Reel Talk, C+


  1. I can't say that about atmosphere but the film definitely lacked in something that I can't determine. I read the book first, but still liked the movie and even gave it a 4 star rating... Probably, the main issue for me was that right away Mortensen's character disclosed in the narrative who they are hiding from. If I made this film, I wouldn't let this fact be uttered aloud at the beginning for viewers aren't stupid, they would get what kind of people father and son confront.

    PS Probably, everybody knows what I'm talking about but I decided not to be precise to avoid spoilers, just in case.

  2. I know what you mean about it being difficult to pinpoint what the film lacks. Even though I enjoyed hearing the novel read aloud I'm wondering if the voiceover had something to do with it; as you say, it perhaps adds to the whole issue of giving away too much and presenting a level of obviousness.

  3. Much like the novel it's perfectly dark and depressing, but the problem was that it gets way too Hollywood by the end. Becoming more of your average, ordinary post-apocalyptic adventure, that comes out every once/twice a year.

  4. You're describing exactly my problems with it Dan although I have to say, I felt like that throughout most of it, rather than just towards the end. I don't feel like there's anything massively wrong with it but I also feel like there wasn't a huge amount of substance there either.