"The Road" is a bleak but superbly crafted post-apocalyptic tale
There's simply no way around it: the apocalypse is not uplifting material. Just know that going into "The Road," the dreary, very heavy but affecting tale of post-apocalyptic survival of a man and his young son. While the recent "2012" had fun blowing up the world, the far superior "The Road" is in no way amusing, which isn't to say it's not entertaining, just in a far different way. "The Road" isn't a message movie per se, but it's stark reminder of what life after the apocalypse could be like makes it one of the year's must see films.
A father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind and water. It is cold enough to crack stones, and, when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the warmer south, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing: just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless cannibalistic bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a rusting shopping cart of scavenged food--and each other.
"The Road" is a dark, heavy drama of life in post-apocalyptic America, based on Cormac McCarthy's 2006 best-selling (and equally downbeat) novel. It's essentially a two-person film, ably carried by "Lord of the Rings" Mortensen, excellent as the wise, protective father who looks out for his son, and from young Australian actor Smit-McPhee as his sickly young son. Their pain, their struggles, are effectively and poiganantly highlighted thoroughout the film; it's dark, depressing tone and vivid shades of gray remind of the 1983 film "Testament," starring a wonderful Jane Alexander in a bleak film with similar themes.
"The Road" is quite effective at portraying a harrowing life of survival (particularly scary: cannibals who hunt people down). The Oscar-worthy photography is stark, memorably evoking what a nuclear winter is like (it's never specifically mentioned what really happened, but that is the assumption here). Director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") elicits realistic, very natural performances from both Mortensen and Smit-McPhee, known only as Man and Boy here.
There are a few other notables in the cast, but they're too brief to make a huge impact. Charlize Theron plays the wife and mother and is seen only in flashbacks; Theron is very poignant but seen briefly in a role that's actually quite expanded from the novel. Blink and you'll miss Robert Duvall (hardly recognizable under a load of makeup) as an old, dying drifter, and Guy Pearce as a fellow father and traveler.
As you might expect with something like this, it isn't that hopeful, but the script tries to uplift when the two leads find pockets of food, a bath or warm clothes, things they now take for granted. As much as "The Road" tries to be hope, it really isn't, so don't go expecting to leave happy. But you'll certainly remember some of the film's stark images, not to mention the superb performances from the leads.