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Perilous journey

Movies | Violent Road is an assaultive experience in a post-apocalyptic setting

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

What is it about the end of the world? Going to the movies has always been a good way to figure out what's on everybody's mind, and if you didn't know we lived in a world filled with war and natural disaster and economic failure before you walked into the theater, you certainly know it coming out of Zombieland, 2012, 9 and now The Road.

The Road is based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and is directed by John Hillcoat. The story follows an unnamed father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they navigate the perilous terrain of an America decimated by what looks like nuclear war or a really big volcano (both McCarthy and Hillcoat leave the disaster in question vague).

Mortensen carries the movie on his back. The post-apocalyptic setting provides some great vistas for Hillcoat to shoot, but its subject is the love between a father and a son in the face of certain death, and Mortensen's tortured looks give us all the emotional connection we need.

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The Road is rated R, partly for lots of grim violence and partly because when the characters bathe, we get a look at their backsides (the end of the world is mostly populated by men, and the nudity is totally sexless, if a little egregious). The violence makes Hillcoat appear to be trying too hard-this is science fiction, after all. We don't need to be convinced of its verisimilitude the same way we would if we were watching Schindler's List, because the events depicted in The Road aren't real. Hillcoat's insistence on the story's truthfulness, mostly through bloody encounters with starving, ravaged people, seems weirdly futile.

Adapting McCarthy is a tricky business-do it right and you get the Coen brothers' lean, mean No Country for Old Men; do it wrong and you get All the Pretty Horses, arguably the world's most boring movie. The Road lies somewhere in between. The movie gets a lot of McCarthy's nuance across, but it's such an assaultive, graphic experience that it's hard to recommend.

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