The Road | movie review

The Road is, unfortunately, a boring movie, and the title might as well be Sittin’ Round the Campfire. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is one of the very best books of the decade, and this adaptation falls flat for about half the running time. There are good actors, moments, and visuals, but the whole isn’t more the sum of its parts. Viggo Mortensen puts in his patented perfect performance, and he carries the movie as far as his considerable talent can, but he is only one man, and can’t make up for the shortcomings of the director and writers.

John Hillcoat is probably to blame for this disappointment, but what did the studio expect from a man known primarily for music videos, with a scant two films under his belt? A title with this kind of gravitas deserves a proven heavy-hitting director. You get what you pay for, and Hillcoat proves masterful at symbolism but meager on cohesive plot. The Road as a novel is chock-full of powerful beats, and the movie tries to pack as many of these memorable moments in as possible. In order to do this, pacing is sacrificed, with fast cuts between vignettes. Additionally, some scenes are added that are not in the book, and the most powerful bits are left out of the film entirely.

To top off the poor execution, a weepy piano soundtrack makes the proceeding seem sappy and saccharine sweet at times. The film is not all bad, and it manages to compress things the right way at times. In the beginning, the Man and the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wake in a cave, the cave the scene of the Man’s dark dream from the book. The visuals are often startlingly impressive, and the digital work is mostly solid, although the panoramas of dead cities look very fake. I was afraid from the previews that the film would not be dark enough, but the environment nearly matches the desperate setting McCarthy originally described.

Viggo really pulls off some great work here, his voiceover work is just perfect, and his weight loss is startling. The foreshadowing desiccated body found on a bed looks a lot like the Man, and you’ll be amazed how deathly Viggo can actually look in the end. The movie does great work in the characters’ appearances; the dirt and grime looks very convincing. Robert Duvall shows up as Eli, a blind old man who spouts off some circular philosophy in classic Cormac McCarthy manner. Duvall’s close-ups, with milky white cataracts, are probably the best scenes in the film. He conveys more of the source material’s power in his short time on screen than the movie itself. He looks and sounds biblical, and the prose is profound. Michael K. Williams also puts in a pretty incredible turn as an unfortunate thief; he looks genuinely desperate, down to the spittle coming out of his mouth.

But that’s as good as it gets. There is no baby cooking on a spit, the most grotesque and powerful scene of the book. The idea of eating future generations is central to the story, and it was a shame Hillcoat got weak knees. It’s also a shame he added a bunch of extraneous bullshit. The audience knows there are cannibals; you don’t have to add a scene of innocents being slaughtered in a field to get the point across. The idea that a family followed them down the road is also a glaring addition that makes no sense. Maybe they could have said something before poor ol’ Pops died of TB. In the book, the boy is shepherded to a compound, but in the movie they thought it would be good for a classic ‘nuclear’ family (haw haw haw) to welcome him with open arms, and a family dog. You have to be kidding me.

The Road isn’t a terrible movie, and it gets things right half of the time. You can’t deny that the movie drags through the middle, and some of the third act is poorly handled. The movie can’t hold a candle to the book, which had much more of a through-the-looking-glass mystery to it, and a willingness to push boundaries. On the other hand, if you’ve been jonesing to see Viggo’s ass again after Eastern Promises, you’ll get it twice in this movie, though he is pretty gaunt. I always imagined the Man to be more of a gruff redneck than an east coast liberal, but that’s just from the audiobook, I guess. The movie hasn’t been given a wide release, so good luck finding it if you decide to go.  By all means, read the book, and go see the movie if you have to, but be ready for some boredom and exasperation with your apocalyptic drama.


  1. Strangely, nothing in your review makes me not want to see this. Probably mostly because we have divergent tastes in films. 🙂

    I’m one of those who needs luck getting it in a theater near me, though.

  2. Well, I agree with your lackluster reaction, although for me it was for different reasons. I thought the director mainly failed to make it his own–it was too close to the book, without proper consideration of the forms that might be needed to impart on screen things that can be said in 1 sentence in writing. Also, the fact that he didn’t go full bleak–bad move. This was an entirely too sanitized version of the world in the book. C+ at most.

  3. sanitized is correct. maybe the Disney version of the book?
    it didn’t “follow the book”. it threw away the best scene and
    expanded the Woman’s role so much more than the book.
    i watched it online for free. glad i didn’t buy a ticket.

  4. Saw this movie in a old theater out on the east coast last night. Read the book, listened to it in audiobook format several times. I agree that although some parts of the movie hit the chord it often fell flat. For me the audio rendering I read stirred the emotion, the ending (and i hate to say this) made me cry as after all that struggle to have the father die seemed so hard.

    As a father of a 8 year old boy, who carries the fire, it hit hard about the reality that what you have today will at some point be lost to you; whether old age, sickness or just simple tragedy. IF I could freeze time I would, to be in that place I am today with my son.

    The movie could have been so much better, so much more powerful. I was equally disappointed when they choose to end the movie without the compound scene, the trout in the river.

    The scene with Eli was spot on.

  5. I got to say, I’ve never read the book before so I can’t compare the too. But Comparing the Trailer to seeing the actual movie was a real disapointment. It seemed like there would be non stop action with crazy canibals at thier heels the entire movie, but it was like.. action scene (if you could call it that most the time) then 30 mins sulking around a fire or walking down a road. I’m tempted to read the book now from all the good reviews.

    The Movie did have some interesting parts though, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

  6. One of the best movies I have seen. Incredible acting by the two lead characters. Wonderfully tender relationship portrayed between father and son. Great story. Brought me to tears. Made me apreciate life more. I highly recommend it.

  7. i was very supprised that i enjoyed this film, i hadnt read the book either so it was all new to me, the acting was powerfull, father and son together, my own son kept popping into my head as i watched so tender and emotional was the acting, id recomend this film to anybody

  8. i have read the book and seen the movie, and i have to say while i found the book powerful and one of my favourite yet, the movie was far better in my opinion, the movie gave out the real faceless tragedy that was missing from the book

  9. I really enjoyed this movie. I loved the book. It’s one of my favorites and the movie isn’t as good, but it’s still highly effective. The parts that weren’t: the voiceover and flashbacks, but other than that, it brought up great themes and ideas and made you think about how you would react in the same situation.

  10. I am very dissapointed that I spent $5.86 for the DVD rental. It had two great actors (Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron)starring, which is why I rented it. However the movie “I think” was unsalvageable from the beginning. Sometimes a good book should be left on paper and not on the big screen.

  11. I’m still trying to figure out why there was so much grown man nudity in this movie. I saw like 4 nutsacks so unnecessary. This movie was literally laughable. I’ll never read that book in my life because of this movie.

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