Hollywood has a strange fascination with stories that take place in dystopic futures. From Bladerunner, Robocop and The Fifth Element, films which take place in futures that feature sprawling, unrelentingly grim mega cities, cybernetically-enhanced humans and incredibly strong android geniuses, to Beyond Thunder Dome, The Road Warrior and The Book of Eli, post apocalyptic films that focus on desolate de-urbanised landscapes and the absence of advanced technology, the American film industry has produced some excellent and very memorable films about distant futures in which no one in their right mind would want to exist.
Given tinsel town’s penchant for making excellent films about the apocalypse, it should be no surprise that The Road, starring Viggo Mortenson (A History of Violence, The Lord of the Rings), Robert Duvall (Get Low) and Charlize Theron (Hancock) is such a successful movie. The Road tells the tale of a man and his son, as they struggle in a post-apocalyptic world to find their way to the sunny west coast of what used to be America. Along the way they must confront and escape from bandits, cannibals and their own sense of pathos and fear. The details of what caused the disaster, the aftermath of which the characters must cope, are vague, but the audience is led to believe that it was caused by some weapon of mass destruction.
It is the star power of Viggo Mortenson, and to a lesser extent the performance given by Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays the son, that drive this film. While Duvall and Theron are both excellent in the roles they are given, they make only brief appearances.
Mortenson plays a person who is at war with himself, desperately trying to be decent and kind, but who ends up doing terrible things to ensure his survival and that of his son. He is aware that the world is dying, but tries to shield his son from the harsh reality of ecological melt-down, thus ensuring the boy’s sanity and his ability to cope if anything should happen to his father.
The wonderful thing about Mortenson’s portrayal of the “Man” is that he plays a character not macho in any way. While other films about dark futures (Mad Max, Waterworld, The Terminator, etc.) have all featured stone-faced, monosyllabic, rugged individualists as their heroes, The Road presents us with a man who is sensitive; someone who spends most of the film terrified, is never in control of his environment and who never once picks up an assault rifle to blow someone away. How very refreshing!
The cinematography is also excellent. It conveys the bleakness of a blasted, maimed world in its death-throes, and gives us a strong sense of the tragedy of humanity’s downfall.
This is a good film, and is definitely a piece of cinema that should be added to your “must see” list if you enjoy gritty, speculative films about the future of the human race, and the tiny blue planet on which we live. Two thumbs up!