Published at: Sept. 8, 2009, 1:52 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on THE ROAD, which screened at the Telluride Film Festival along with a tribute to its star Viggo Mortensen.
Let me start with a recap of the tribute. It’s not a massive ordeal, but they did show clips from many of Viggo’s movies including A WALK ON THE MOON, LORD OF THE RINGS, CARLITO’S WAY, WITNESS and GI JANE (unfortunately no DAYLIGHT) then brought Viggo out (in a “Make Art Not War” t-shirt) to talk a little.
He was very engaging, especially when it came to his relationship with his son, which got him on a good 5 minute long track talking about how movies were the bond between him and his mother and the same is true between him and his son.
It really kind of hit me dead center, to be honest. Movies weren’t what bonded me to my parents so much, even though we had a lot of similar interests. My mom loved horror movies and courtroom dramas, my dad like spaghetti westerns.
Although film wasn’t a hugely important part of the parental bonding process it is and has always been very important with my personal relationships. Every girlfriend I’ve had started with a movie. Every good friend I’ve had will either pull me in into a movie marathon or join in on mine on a regular basis (I just had an Elliot Gould-a-thon).
It was just cool to hear that’s how he relates to his kid, obsessively getting on different movie kicks (he mentioned Kurosawa and Godzilla) and seeing big event pictures, no matter how shitty, opening weekend.
Mortensen also spoke about his career and that the first movie he did was Woody Allen’s THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO… but his scene got cut out. Next movie he did was SWING SHIFT… where he played a guys trying to pick up Goldie Hawn at a movie theater… and his scene was cut. He said his parents started to doubt he was in New York trying to become an actor.
Enough with that, let’s get down to the movie.
Yes, I’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s book and yes I love it. Yes, I’ve seen John Hillcoat and Joe Penhall’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book and it’s a slightly different experience, but a pretty damn good adaptation.
There’s a certain cadence to McCarthy’s novel, a hypnotic use of language and repetition that works on a literary level, but could never really work on a visual, cinematic level. Hillcoat realized this and adapted accordingly.
But that’s not a warning flag, I promise. McCarthy’s characters are the same, the world is the same, the tone is the same and none of the heart (or the balls) of the story is missing.
The biggest pill to swallow for fans of the book is in The Boy character. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays him in the movie and does a great job, but he’s not exactly as I read him as a character. That’s natural in an adaptation, though. He doesn’t have as long to come out of his shell.
Thankfully Smit-McPhee’s a good actor and is able to balance The Boy’s innocence in such a way that it never becomes precocious. The kid’s naïve in the same way an Amish dude would be in a Best Buy. He doesn’t know anything but the post apocalyptic world, born after the fires started and the world went to shit.
Mortensen is predictably fantastic. That dude can say 5 different things with his face in one ten second take. He’s raw, nervous, slightly crazed, but still has a working moral compass. His every movement is to protect his kid as they make their way through the gray landscape that used to be America.
It’s not a safe world. Food is all but gone. Seemingly all animal life has died off, society has shut down so the survivors of this plague are either scroungers or hunters, literally feeding off the slim remainder of humanity.
Hillcoat’s execution of the world is epic and sad and more than a little scary in how it’s probably not too far from what would actually happen in this world if there was an apocalyptic event.
We never see the reason for the devastation we only see the results. We’re also given a few brief glimpses at life before the shit hit the fan. There’s green plants, sunlight… but that’s barely registered, serving only to cement this changed landscape into something the audience can recognize.
That’s also the extent of Charleze Theron’s performance. If you’re like me when you saw that trailer which is cut to make it look the wife’s a huge character and might even be on the road with The Man and The Boy you got a bit nervous. That feels like a studio note. “Where’s the love interest? We can get that Theron girl! She’ll sell tickets!” So it’s not a paranoid delusion on the part of the fans.
I can put your fears at ease. Theron’s character is only seen in flashback. Her purpose seems to be to haunt Mortensen’s character, actually. There is more to her in the movie than in McCarthy’s book, but it’s handled very well and it never crosses the line to betraying the father/son heart of the film. If anything the added depth to the wife character improves that dynamic.
The smaller characters in the film made me smile, especially Robert Duvall as the old traveler that our leads stumble across. Duvall knocks his brief bit part out of the park playing this half-blind wanderer who has somehow survived the hell the world has become. The dude’s a treasure and still has the power to hit you in your emotional core with nothing but a line delivery.
Also of note is Michael K. Williams who plays The Thief. Fans of the book knows just how important this scene is to the story, especially to the evolving dynamic between The Boy and The Man. Williams is heart-breaking in this role, again very brief, but a hit and run performance.
The movie’s fucking dark, but just like the book there’s a glimmer of hope. There’s no magic cure, no deus ex machina to come in at the end and save the world and all of God’s chillin’. There is only this reality the hope that the innate goodness in people will show itself eventually and our species won’t get snubbed out.
Hillcoat isn’t afraid to explore the darker aspects of the book, like The Man’s willingness to blow his own kid’s brains out if it looks like they’re trapped and might get captured by the rapist cannibals scavenging this wasteland. He also made the right decision in bringing on Javier Aguirresarobe (THE OTHERS) to photograph this movie, really cementing this reality.
The Road isn’t the typical studio film. It’s one of the rare epic-scale R-rated harsh films that sometimes squeak out of the studio system when all the stars align. I was very impressed with it, even as a fan of the book.
After the movie, Viggo came back up on the stage and answered a few questions. When put on the spot to add on a final word he thought for a second then dug into his bag and brought out his personal copy of THE ROAD. There were what looked like a hundred stick-it notes marking different pages and the spine was cracked and worn. It’s obviously seen a lot of use.
To close the event he read a bit from McCarthy’s description of the sea-area landscape. That was pretty cool and I was able to snap a pic.
My Telluride ended today. I’m on my way out of town tomorrow morning, but I’ll be filing reports all week, logging all my Telluride reviews and interviews before Fantastic Fest rolls around and I am once again swamped. Keep your eyes peeled. I got reviews of Jason Reitman’s UP IN THE AIR, Todd Solondz’s LIFE DURING WARTIME, the adorable Carey Mulligan’s star-making AN EDUCATION and quite a bit more all on deck!
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