I know it may seem a rather strange criticism, but the one thing that John Hillcoat's The Road has between it and greatness is that it is just not desolate enough. Hillcoat's film, adapted rather adeptly from Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, is the story of a man and his ten year old boy (both unnamed in book and in movie) making their way through the post-apocalyptic world that is now, and has been for a decade, their quite inhospitable home. This is a world where most life has ceased to exist. This is a world where all crops and animals and only small pocketfuls of humans populate a harsh reality. This is a world where humanity has ceased to be and cannibalism has become the norm for the few remaining humans. This is a world where this intrepid father and son trudge on and on and on, in essence searching for hope at the end of the proverbial rainbow, but in reality just biding their time until death eventually and inevitably comes. This is a world that McCarthy painted as not only inhospitable, but downright unsurvivable - or even unworthy of survival. This is also a world that is envisioned by the director in an acutely accurate adaptation but is also never taken to that nth level of desperation that McCarthy's Faulkneresque prose takes it - and us with it.
Perhaps it is the unnecessary musical score that accompanies these atrocities that make this film sing its weary song in less than harsh enough tomes. Sufficiently moody and apprehensive in its downbeat melody, it is nonetheless completely superfluous in its cinematic appearance. What Hillcoat needed for his film was more of a real world feel. More desolation. More of a quiet (read: no music) empty void of a film. Again, this is a strange criticism (and basically the only real criticism I have of this otherwise brave motion picture) but nonetheless, there it is. Perhaps under the auspices of a filmmaker such as Tarkovsky or Bela Tarr, McCarthy's work would have more power thrust toward its viewers, just as the writer's words upon the page come alive even amidst all the death and decay he is speaking of. But then it is not necessarily Hillcoat's inability to direct that has this film lacking in that one certain aspect of attempted desolation. Hillcoat's The Propostion, a Sergio Leone-like western full of just about as much audacious chutzpah as one can imagine, is a great film, and his ability to create a work such as that should have made him and easy choice for the bravura needed to adapt McCarthy's prose into film. And, for the most part, the filmmaker does just that, and if not for the choice of maudlin score to accompany such tragedy, this too would have been a great film. In all other aspects, including Viggo Mortensen's powerful performance and the gorgeously horrific cinematography and truly desolate art direction, John Hillcoat's The Road is, in many ways, a magnificent film to watch and behold. If only for the filmmaker's somewhat lack of daring does it cease to become the great epic work it very well could have been. [01/17/10]