Thursday, November 26, 2009

Keepin' the Fire Burning: THE ROAD - Reviewed - and: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Well, it's a holiday weekend, and I've just come from the first-ever Baram Brothers' Burbank Thanksgiving. Sure, it was a low-key celebration, and sure, the amount of food that was actually home-cooked was minimal to nonexistant, but hey, I've never been one for big holiday productions. Give me some decent food, a nice dessert (preferably something chocolate), and a relaxing evening of chillin' out, watching movies, and being lazy any day of the week.

Anyways, I kicked off the long holiday weekend Wednesday night by checking out a movie I had been looking forward to for a long time now - The Road. I really dug it, but was surprised to find that the reviews that were out there were decidedly mixed. For that reason, I was really eager to review it and set the record straight.

So ... HAPPY THANKSGIVING ... and check out the review below ...

THE ROAD Review:

- Sometimes, you've just got to go with your gut. I've read several reviews of The Road, and the majority of them are either mildly positive or else utterly dismissive. A few have enthusiastically sung the movie's praises, but many have also expressed the sentiment that the film just doesn't hold up to the evocative imagery and dense literary themes of Cormac McCarthy's acclaimed novel. I know what the critical consensus seems to be, and yet ... I just saw The Road, and came out of the theater feeling like I'd watched a monumental cinematic achievement. This was a movie that bowled me over, that gripped me from start to finish. Talk about intense - The Road was, to me, about as intense as they come. I haven't read the book on which the movie is based, but it's hard to imagine a movie that could better capture the story's main themes, as well as its bleak, desolate atmosphere. I thought that this one knocked it out of the park. This was, I think, one hell of a movie.

The Road works so well because it is absolutely unrelenting in its vision. The movie transports us to a hellish, post-apocalyptic future in which mankind is on its last legs after an all-consuming disaster of mysterious origin. The world has literally come apart at the seams, and what was once a place of color and beauty is now one of ashen grey and all-encompassing desolation. This isn't your typical futuristic wasteland, in which humanity regroups post-disaster to restart society and learn from the mistakes of the old way of life. No, this is an uncompromisingly bleak world in which, basically, humanity seems to be pretty much $%&#'ed. And I think that that's part of what makes The Road so effective as high drama - the stakes, clearly, are high. We don't know that any sort of happy ending awaits. This isn't a story that plays by action-movie rules. Instead, this is a journey about how one carries on in the face of absolute hopelessness. It sounds bleak, and it is - very much so - but that bleakness makes the little moments where the light shines through that much more powerful.

The acting here is superb. Viggo Mortensen delivers a one-of-a-kind, award-worthy performance. Over the last several years, Viggo has become one of my favorite actors - not only does he consistently choose unique and challenging roles, but he rises to that challenge and goes above and beyond what most other actors would bring to the table. Viggo's performance in The Road is another achievement to put on his list of great performances alongside movies like The Lord of the Rings, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and Appaloosa. Here, Viggo portrays a man who is clinging to the concept of survival when all else seems lost. His health is fading, his will is shaken, his sense of morality challenged, and yet he persists. It's a haunting performance that will stick with me for a long time. The intensity that Viggo brings to this role, the way that he loses himself in the role ... well, I don't think any other actor working today could have played this part, not even close.

I was also somewhat blown away by how good Kodi Smit-McPhee is as Viggo's son. Some of the most effective work I've seen from a child-actor in a movie of this kind. Some of Kodi's big moments in this movie are ultra-powerful, some totally heart-rending. Charlize Theron does nice work as Viggo's wife, who appears in flashbacks to just after disaster struck and the world went to hell. And Robert Duvall has an awesome cameo as an Old Man who crosses paths with the Man and his Son. It's one of those roles that is short, but very memorable, and pivotal to the movie.

Actors like Mortensen help augment the fact that The Road may be methodical at times, but it's also intense as hell. The wasteland that the Man and the Boy trudge through, trying desperately to reach a fabled haven to the South, is a very scary place. Dangerous and feral men roam about, cannibals look for weaker prey to feast on, and thieves hunt for food and supplies. The disaster killed the trees and animals and wiped out all remnants of civilized society. Food is scarce, and the few people left walking the earth have been forced, in many cases, to become something less than human. Every stop that our heroes make on their journey could be their last. Danger, death, and even worse fates lurk around every corner. Suffice it to say, this movie kept me 100% on the edge of my seat for the duration.

It's funny though, because I've heard the criticism that the movie is actually too sentimental as compared to the book. Personally, I thought The Road had just enough lightness to give the story weight, to make it feel like there was a point to all the darkness. I think the conversations between the Man and his Son make for some of the most interesting discussions of human morality that you'll ever see in a movie. And what sentimentality there is helped illustrate what to me is a key point of the story - that even in the absolute bleakest of times, there is a spark of humanity that will persist. To me, The Road wasn't a story about the end of humanity. Instead, it was a story of how despite all odds, humanity somehow goes on, even if it's just a few, or even just one, who "keeps the fire burning."

There is a lot of violence and grimness and bleakness in The Road, but there's also a very thoughtful, very smart, and very emotional examination of what it is to be human at the movie's core. When the closing credits hit, there was a sort of stunned silence in the theater. We all exhaled. Many clapped. This movie hits you hard, but it earns it. Director John Hillcoat does an amazing job of creating a world that, visually, is dripping with a gloomy atmosphere of grey desolation. Many scenes are beautifully shot, very painterly and evocative. At the same time, other scenes get your heart racing - Hillcoat knows how to lay on the tension and construct a scene so that the intensity builds to the breaking point. And Viggo and the rest of the cast does an outstanding job of bringing real emotion, drama, and humanity to the film. I'm not quite sure what issues others had with the movie, why it didn't resonate with them as much as it did for me. But I came away somewhat floored. The Road is up there as a must-see, award-worthy movie of 2009.

My Grade: A

- Alright, once again, HAPPY THANKSGIVING - until next time, Baram out.

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