Two stars (out of five). Rating: R, for violence, torture, cannibalism, nudity and profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.27.09
Buy DVD: The Road • Buy Blu-Ray: The Road [Blu-ray]
Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a story for folks who felt that his No Country for Old Men was too cheerful and uplifting.
Director John Hillcoat's film adaptation is designed for viewers seeking a reason to return home and slit their wrists.
|The man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) must keep|
a wary eye on their surroundings while traveling by day; encounters with other
human beings are likely to be deadly ... or worse.
I cannot, in good conscience, imagine any set of circumstances that would prompt me to recommend this movie. To anybody.
Granted, McCarthy's harrowing novel took the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for literature; the author's mesmerizing prose — and much richer characterizations — are spellbinding in their intensity. Although driven by a ghastly premise and heartbreaking plot, McCarthy is too skilled a writer — too adept a wordsmith — for his book to be ignored, should one pick it up.
But that doesn't make the experience worthwhile.
I've long been a fan of Dan Simmons' works, which as yet haven't been adapted to the large or small screen. Simmons is well known in the fantasy and sci-fi community, where his long and dense books are deservedly celebrated. I eagerly anticipated diving into The Terror, one of his recent historical novels, which blends chilling fantasy with the fact-based account of a doomed 19th century attempt to find the mythical ocean passage just below the North Pole.
Simmons' blend of gripping prose and meticulous research made the 992-page book a compelling read. But the story's conclusion proved so infuriating that I deeply resented what I now regard as utterly wasted time. I wanted — still want, nearly a year later — those many, many hours of my life back.
Viewers of Hillcoat's adaptation of The Road are apt to feel the same way, and it's only 113 minutes long.
Readers who were able to extract weighty philosophical issues and great moral truths from McCarthy's novel won't find them in this unrelentingly bleak and soul-deadening film adaptation. McCarthy's view of mankind never has been that optimistic to begin with, and his indictment of human behavior is particularly stern in The Road.
Screenwriter Joe Penhall gets that much right, but he overlooks the essential inner musings that McCarthy employed to make his primary characters at least somewhat palatable. Penhall and Hillcoat have done nothing but prove that some books simply defy visual translation; The Road cannot work as a movie, because the form demands that it become no more than an interminably depressing trivialization of its source.