★ ★ ★ ★
Of all the popular film sub-genres, there is probably none more rife with epic failures than post-apocalyptic suspense movies. One need only think back to The Postman, or more recently 2012, to see just how wrong these movies can go. Fortunately, The Road is a marked departure from the genre. The film is set in a world devastated by an unnamed catastrophe, that has turned the planet into a barren wasteland. The story is centered upon a father and son who travel the countryside, scavenging whatever they can in order to survive. A series of flashbacks explains some of the key events, though leaves much to the imagination.
Unlike most films from the genre, The Road is very minimalist in both dialogue, and action. While there are some truly frightening scenes, the real horror lies in the sheer hopelessness of the situation. The film is perhaps the best depiction of a truly Hobbesian world that I have ever seen. The struggle goes well beyond the survival of the characters. Mortensen's unnamed character tries to pass down a moral code to his son that he himself barely remembers. An immoral world is in danger of becoming an amoral world. The prevailing barbarism gives one a sense that all of the progress from the last 3000 years is vanishing before our eyes. That is what makes the film truly frightening.
This is unquestionably Viggo Morteson's best role. It will be a real shame when he is overlooked for a Best Actor nomination. After a stellar debut with The Proposition, director John Hillcoat has established himself as one of the most talented directors around. Screenwriter Joe Penhall also deserves credit for faithfully translating Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel into a compelling film experience. The Road is certainly one of the top three films of the year thus far, arguably the best. Unfortunately it is a fairly limited release, so catch it while it lasts.