The Road (2009 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Hillcoat|
|Produced by||Nick Wechsler
Paula Mae Schwartz
|Screenplay by||Joe Penhall|
|Based on||The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
|Narrated by||Viggo Mortensen|
|Music by||Nick Cave
|Edited by||Jon Gregory|
|Distributed by||The Weinstein Company
(United Kingdom and Australia)
|Box office||$27.6 million|
The Road is a 2009 American post-apocalyptic drama film directed by John Hillcoat from a screenplay written by Joe Penhall, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel of the same name by the American author Cormac McCarthy. Principal photography took place in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Oregon. The film stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and his son in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The Road received a limited release in North American cinemas from November 25, 2009, and was released in United Kingdom cinemas on January 4, 2010. The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with the performances of Mortensen and Smit-McPhee garnering praise. It also received numerous nominations, including a BAFTA nomination for Best Cinematography.
A man and his young son struggle to survive after a global cataclysm has caused an extinction event. They scavenge for supplies and avoid roaming gangs as they travel on a road to the coast in the hope it will be warmer.
Years earlier, the man's wife gives birth to their son shortly after the catastrophe and she gradually loses hope. When the man shoots an intruder using one of three bullets they have saved for their family as a last resort, she accuses him of wasting the bullet deliberately to prevent her suicide. Removing her coat and hat, she walks into the woods, never to be seen again. The coldness of her abandonment being "her final gift", it spurs the man to take his son south in search of warmer climates.
In the present, after shooting a member of a gang of cannibals who stumbles upon them, the man is left with only one bullet. Later, exploring a mansion, he and the boy discover people locked in the basement, imprisoned as food for their captors. When the armed cannibals return, the man and his son hide. With discovery imminent, the man prepares to shoot his son, but they flee when the cannibals are distracted by the escaping captives.
Further down the road, the man and boy discover an underground shelter full of canned food and supplies. They feast and bathe. When they hear noises above, including a dog, he decides they must leave for a dog means an owner. Further down the road, the son persuades him to share food with a near-blind old man.
At the coast, the man leaves the boy to guard their possessions while he swims out to scavenge a beached ship. The boy falls asleep and their supplies are stolen. They chase down the thief and take everything from him, even his clothes. This distresses the boy, so they turn back and leave the clothes and a can of food for the thief.
As they pass through a ruined town, the man is shot in the leg with an arrow. He kills his ambusher with a flare gun he found on the ship and finds the archer's female companion in the same room. The man thinks the archer and woman were following them, but she says it was the other way around. He leaves her weeping over the body. Weakened, the man and boy abandon their cart and most of their possessions. The man's condition deteriorates and eventually he dies. The boy is approached by a man who, with his wife, two children, and dog, convinces the boy he is one of the "good guys" and takes him under his protection. The wife says they have been following the boy and his father.
- Viggo Mortensen as Man
- Kodi Smit-McPhee as Boy
- Charlize Theron as Woman, the Man's wife (appears in a series of flashbacks). Theron was a fan of the book and had worked with producer Nick Wechsler on the 2000 film The Yards. The woman has a larger role in the film than in the book, with Hillcoat stating "I think it's fine to depart from the book as long as you maintain the spirit of it."
- Robert Duvall as Ely, the Old Man
- Guy Pearce as Veteran, a father wandering with his family
- Molly Parker as Motherly Woman, the Veteran's wife
- Michael Kenneth Williams as Thief
- Garret Dillahunt as Gang Member
In November 2006, producer Nick Wechsler used independent financing to acquire film rights to adapt the 2006 novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy. When Wechsler had watched John Hillcoat's 2005 film The Proposition after reading The Road, the producer decided to pursue Hillcoat to direct the film adaptation. Wechsler described Hillcoat's style: "There was something beautiful in the way John captured the stark primitive humanity of the West in that movie." In April 2007, Joe Penhall was hired to script the adapted screenplay. Wechsler and his fellow producers Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz planned to have a script and an actor cast to portray the father before pursuing a distributor for the film. By the following November, actor Viggo Mortensen had entered negotiations with the filmmakers to portray the father, though he was occupied with filming Appaloosa in New Mexico.
The film had a budget of $20 million. Filming began in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in late February 2008, continuing for eight weeks before moving on to northwestern Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Oregon. Hillcoat preferred to shoot in real locations, saying "We didn't want to go the CGI world." Pennsylvania, where most of the filming took place, was chosen for its tax breaks and its abundance of locations that looked abandoned or decayed: coalfields, dunes, and run-down parts of Pittsburgh and neighboring boroughs. Filming was also done at the 1892 amusement resort (Conneaut Lake Park) after one of the park's buildings (the Dreamland Ballroom) was destroyed in a fire in February 2008. The beaches of Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania were also used. Hillcoat also said of using Pittsburgh as a practical location, "It's a beautiful place in fall with the colors changing, but in winter, it can be very bleak. There are city blocks that are abandoned. The woods can be brutal." Filmmakers also shot scenes in parts of New Orleans that had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and on Mount St. Helens in Washington. The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike, a stretch of abandoned roadway between Hustontown and Breezewood, Pennsylvania, was used for much of the production.
Hillcoat sought to make the film faithful to the spirit of the book, creating "a world in severe trauma," although the circumstances of the apocalyptic event are never explained. Hillcoat said "That's what makes it more realistic, then it immediately becomes about survival and how you get through each day as opposed to what actually happened." Filmmakers took advantage of days with bad weather to portray the post-apocalyptic environment. Mark Forker, the director of special effects for the film, sought to make the landscape convincing, handling sky replacement and digitally removing greenery from scenes.
The Road was originally scheduled to be released in November 2008. It was pushed back to be released in December, and then pushed back a second time to sometime in 2009. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio decided that the film would benefit from a longer post-production process and a less crowded release calendar. A new release date was scheduled for October 16, 2009. However, according to reports from Screen Rant and /Film, the Weinsteins had decided at the last minute to delay the film to November 25, 2009 as a possible move to make the film more of an Oscar contender, bumping their previous film set for that date, Rob Marshall's adaptation of the musical Nine (which was also predicted to be a huge awards contender) into December 2009.
The film had its world premiere in September 2009 at the 66th Venice International Film Festival where it was in competition for the Golden Lion and Silver Lion prizes. It also screened at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival.
The film holds a 75% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 203 reviews; the average rating is 7/10. The critical consensus states, "The Road's commitment to Cormac McCarthy's dark vision may prove too unyielding for some, but the film benefits from hauntingly powerful performances from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee." It also has a score of 64/100 on Metacritic based on 33 reviews, indicating generally positive reviews from critics.
A. O. Scott from At the Movies stated that while the film "hits a few tinny, sentimental notes", he "admire[s] the craft and conviction of this film, and [he] was impressed enough by the look and the performances to recommend that you see it." Peter Travers from Rolling Stone calls the film a "haunting portrait of America as no country for old men or young". He states that "Hillcoat -- through the artistry of Mortensen and Smit-McPhee -- carries the fire of our shared humanity and lets it burn bright and true." Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal states that viewers have to "hang on to yourself for dear life, resisting belief as best you can in the face of powerful acting, persuasive filmmaking and the perversely compelling certainty that nothing will turn out all right."
Esquire screened the film before it was released and called it "the most important movie of the year" and "a brilliantly directed adaptation of a beloved novel, a delicate and anachronistically loving look at the immodest and brutish end of us all. You want them to get there, you want them to get there, you want them to get there—and yet you do not want it, any of it, to end." IGN gave it four and a half out of a possible five stars, calling it "one of the most important and moving films to come along in a long time."
In an early review, The Guardian gave the film four stars out of five, describing it as "a haunting, harrowing, powerful film," with Mortensen "perfectly cast" as the Man. Roger Ebert awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising Mortensen and Smit-McPhee's work, but he did criticize the film for not being as powerful as the book. Luke Davies of The Monthly described the film as "gorgeous, in a horrible way, but its greater coolness and distance shows just how difficult it can be to translate to screen the innate psychic warmth of great literature," and suggested the film's flaws "might have to do with the directorial point of view—it all feels too detached, in a way that the book in its searing intimacy does not," concluding that the film has "too much tableau and not enough acting."
A review in Adbusters disapproved of the product placement in the film, but, as noted by Hillcoat, the references to Coca-Cola appear in the novel, and the company was in fact reluctant about the product being portrayed in the film. The Washington Post said the film "is one long dirge, a keening lamentation marking the death of hope and the leeching of all that is bright and good from the world...It possesses undeniable sweep and a grim kind of grandeur, but it ultimately plays like a zombie movie with literary pretensions." In an article from Arizona Quarterly Billy J. Stratton draws a sharp contrast between the film and what he considers fetishized representations of apocalypse typified by TV programs such as Doomsday Preppers, stating that "...Hillcoat's cinematic adaptation of The Road...dispenses with such romance to expose the folly of end-of-the-world preparedness through the creation of a bleak context that spans years, rather than the mere weeks or months that would likely exhaust the resources of most survivalist designs." Tom Huddleston from Time Out calls the film "...as direct and unflinching an adaptation as one could reasonably hope for." He calls it "...certainly the bleakest and potentially the least commercial product in recent Hollywood history." He calls the movie a "...resounding triumph", noting its "stunning landscape photography [which] sets the melancholy mood, and Nick Cave’s wrenching score..." Sam Adams from the Los Angeles Times notes that while "...Hillcoat certainly provides the requisite seriousness, [...] the movie lacks... an underlying sense of innocence, a sense that, however far humanity has sunk, there is at least some chance of rising again." Kyle Smith from the New York Post states that "Zombieland was the same movie with laughs, but if you take away the comedy, what is left? Nothing, on a vast scale." J. Hoberman from the Village Voice states that while "Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning, Oprah-endorsed, post-apocalyptic survivalist prose poem...was a quick, lacerating read", "...John Hillcoat's literal adaptation is, by contrast, a long, dull slog." Jake Coyle from the Associated Press stated that "[a]dapting a masterpiece such as The Road is a thankless task, but the film doesn't work on its own merits".
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