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The Road

Director John Hillcoat’s ’The Road’ brings a harsher twist to the term ’survival of the fittest’.  Although conjuring images of physical strength, the slogan can also refer to the psychological vigour needed in any endurance test.  Whether the viewer needs this is another point, as The Road’s ongoing bleakness may occasionally prove off-putting.  Those willing to see it to the end should find a satisfying answer to what it really takes to survive.
After a devastating event wipes out all plant and animal life, earth’s civilisation has been destroyed.  Those remaining are left to fend for themselves with scavenging and cannibalism their only means of survival.  Refusing to descend into this dark path are a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who travel South in the hope of finding a better place.  Avoiding unrelenting and desperate thieves, they attempt to escape humanity’s amoral deeds.
If some films shift between light and shade, The Road is defiantly stuck in the latter.  Shot in an endless grey hue, the screenplay’s uncompromising grimness makes a change from cinema’s constant sunshine optimism.  Cleverly the way in which it tells this story avoids the trap of delivering an overall depressing experience, as its main theme is of cherishing life.  As the ill father teaches his son the survival skills needed, he’s really preparing him to face death and to avoid the slide into terminal surrender.
Hillcoat’s assured direction helps to maintain a sense of dread and desperation enveloping the characters.  Never does the air of misery detract from their plight which therefore makes you care what happens, something few directors can accomplish.   The strand exploring the difference between humans and savages is very well articulated by the small cast, with Mortensen perfect as a father steadfastly protecting his son from society’s lawlessness.  These help overcome the sometimes leaden pace which threatens to dilute its interesting themes.
Wallowing in its desolate severity, The Road may seem like a unending ode to despair.  Hopefully it will find an audience willing to ignore this as it offers a unique path on a road few other films seem willing to take.
Rating out of 10:  7 

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