Even with the world on its last legs, humanity nearly extinct due an unspecified disaster, watching a father teach his son how to kill himself is almost too much to bear. The world is gray, earthquakes are common, and nearly all animal life has expired. Despite all of that, despite the billions likely dead across the globe, this single father and son story still holds weight.
Viggo Mortensen, simply known as “The Father,” knows what fate likely awaits him and his son in The Road. Amongst their combined meager possessions, he always has a gun, loaded with two rounds, one for each of them. Despite their current state, malnourished to the point of starvation, that gun holds more importance than anything. It is what matters to them.
It is impossible to fathom how you raise a child in this environment. Mortensen is on the edge, obsessed with keeping his son alive, although even he seems to question why. He never loses focus, although most of his fight seems to be instinctive. It always comes back to that gun for him.
As “The Son,” Kodi Smit-McPhee is superb. His young mind tries to rationalize things he could not possibly understand. As they walk into a barn searching for shelter and food, the former residents have hanged themselves. Smit-McPhee stares, confused, and asks why. Even though Mortensen tells him why, Smith-McPhee does not seem to grasp the idea, or the purpose, for taking ones own life.
This John Penhall script, from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, is incredibly smart. Writing is logical, explaining the bare minimum through logical dialogue. The audience is tossed into this apocalyptic world, lost as to where father and son are heading. Mortensen tells his son as a reassurance, promising him things will be better. Those wondering about the events that occurred prior to the Earth’s near destruction are given a small hint by a nearly unrecognizable Robert Duvall as he talks of his own past. It remains ambiguous, yet the best clue in the film.
The Road makes an interesting observation about childhood. McPhee, despite being raised after the event without contact from other strangers and is a son to an aggressive father, stills shows kindness. He still has his humanity, and compassion for others. He wants to help two random strangers, and feels sympathy as his father strips a man naked for stealing food. The son still has some shred of morals and decency, but why? His entire childhood was about keeping himself alive and seeing others killed or tortured. The fact that he still holds the basics of humanity with a shred of decency is enough to keep hope for civilization by the end of the film, the closest this movie comes to ever being “happy.” [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]
Appropriately, The Road is an ugly, dirty film. It should be. The opening frames, with brightly lit, saturated colors focus on flowers. That is sapped away with a quick edit, leaving the film flat, gray, and brown. The image carries little to no depth due to the gray scale it exists in, and the lack of color suiting but intentionally bland.
Detail is minimal at best. Certain close-ups allow the viewer to pick up individual hairs on Mortensen’s beard, and some light facial detail. Rarely is it defined or crisp in any way. As father and son hide from a group of bandits in a rotting forest, the ground is littered with leaves, and definition is minimal. Long shots of destroyed cities are bland, although enough to pinpoint specific details within the frame. Cloth textures are there and noticeable, but like everything else, still a bit soft and bland.
While free of artifacting and general encode errors, edge enhancement is a consistent problem. The first glaring occurrence is at 3:36 during a long shot of some barren trees. They all have notable halos. There are countless other shots throughout the film like this. The truck door at 30:09, along with the entire freeway when the camera moves underneath, show glowing lines. A few seconds past the hour mark, some sheds in the background have edge enhancement on their roofs. At 1:31:24, a shot of Mortensen and a cart suffers the same issue.
Other problems are few. A hint of banding can be seen within the lackluster blacks from time to time. A shot at 1:17:20 shows a static grain structure, although this likely has to do with the visual effects. The rest of the film carries a natural, unobtrusive grain structure handled without fault by this AVC encode. This film is the furthest thing from eye candy, but the transfer itself, besides the haloing, seems right on the money. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Some of the opening narration by Mortensen can be difficult to make out on this DTS-HD effort, although this seems to have more to do with the voice work than the audio track. Dialogue elsewhere is fine, both crisp and clear.
Earthquakes hit multiple times during the film, the most spectacular at 1:13:20. Trees fall to the ground, aggressively placed in each channel. The shaking itself is heavy on the bass, certainly satisfying in terms of LFE punch. It has no trouble shaking the entire room.
Ambiance is standard, including whipping winds as a character moves out of their home, and some excellent water dripping effects at 26:40 inside the destroyed mall. Obviously, there is no wildlife to take note of. The score is fantastic, especially the simple piano theme played during the beginning of the end credits. It carries a wonderful fullness. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
A commentary begins the extras slate, this one from director John Hillcoat. This moves into a standard making-of that runs for 13:47, followed up by five deleted/extended scenes for 6:38. Typical Sony staples, including MovieIQ, tons of trailers, and BD-Live remain. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]