The Road centers on an unnamed father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) struggling to survive in a hellish, post-apocalyptic world. Their intense journey will leave you feeling drained but ultimately satisfied. Okay, that last part made it sound like I was reviewing a porno. Emotionally drained is a better description for how the movie will leave you. That’s because the viewer is quickly and completely drawn into the bleak, desperate atmosphere as our two protagonists fight to stay alive by any means necessary.
Don’t, however, go into this movie expecting your average Hollywood end-of-the-world story. There are no hordes of CGI monsters. No wild car chases through abandoned streets. And no Will Smith making sarcastic wise-cracks. It’s just normal human beings battling starvation and disease. Indeed, the most terrifying moments of The Road involve acts of unspeakable depravity committed by regular people. Cannibalism has run rampant. Violence is an everyday occurrence — so much so that the characters never appear to be truly safe.
With each abandoned shelter, each deserted highway, there’s a sense of danger lurking just around the corner. Director John Hillcoat helps build this atmosphere of despair by filling his palate with tones of gray and black. Billowing clouds of smoke envelope the sun. Trees are plastered with soot and grime. Let’s just say it’s not exactly spring break in Cancun.
Yet for all the gloom and doom, the heart of the movie is truly uplifting: It’s a story about a father and son depending on one another in times of need. On one hand, the father protects and cares for his son. In turn, the son gives his father hope, gives him a reason to go on. Every interaction between the two is believable and enjoyable thanks to inspired performances by both Viggo and Kodi. Both actors give raw, authentic portrayals that really bear the hearts and minds of their characters. In the end, The Road is both a depressing study of human nature pushed to the limit and a heartwarming testament to the unwavering bond between father and son. It is a film I highly recommend.