On The Road

by Mr. Nobel

The Road is a film made by a man supremely lacking in confidence.

It’s evident in almost every moment of the movie. The director, John Hillcoat, just doesn’t have faith in his images to tell a story. Shame, then, that Hillcoat’s images are so evocative and powerful. There’s a masterpiece to be found in The Road, just with tighter editing.

First off, the voice over in the movie absolutely must go. The Road owes, in part, much to the cinema of Terrence Malick. Hillcoat, as evidenced by his commercial work for Levi’s, is a fan, and The Road bears a resemblance to the way a Malick film is put together, especially the voice over. The Malickian use of voice over, however, crucially lacks the precision and purpose served in a Malick film. Here, it’s a layer of redundancy. We aren’t expected to figure out that the father loves his son simply by watching the damn movie, so we have get told his fact by Viggo Mortensen’s voice over. The film largely lifts out sections of prose from Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Yet, it forgets that the reason McCarthy’s sparse, poetic prose works in the novel is because we’re given so little else to work off of. The minimalistic prose in the book serves to more effectively carry across a tone, a mood, a feeling. In the movie, when we already have images, the narration is superfluous. And adding extra bits of crap to a book that’s well known for being so tightly constructed seems just wrong.

The second big problem is the soundtrack. It just seems out of place. The shots already do a very good job evoking a mood. Adding music on top of that seems both excessive and, at times, kills the authenticity of the imagery. The score is frequently maudlin and too sentimental. Instead of suggesting an emotion, it screams at the audience, “CRY, MOTHERFUCKER, CRY!” The main theme of the movie, which (perhaps coincidentally) bears a striking resemblance to Arvo Part’s Spiegel im Spiegel, is fine. I like the idea of a barebones piano melody serving as a backdrop for the movie. Play a bit quieter though, as if the music’s is part of The Man’s fading memory of civilization. So, keep that piece and pretty much jettison everything else.

Aside from that, there aren’t many other big problems with The Road. As stated previously, the film features very strong visuals, combining many cinematography tricks from Time of the Wolf with some low-key CGI. It pretty much should be essential viewing for any filmmaker making a post-apocalyptic movie. The movie does pussy out on the novel’s two most haunting images (the caravan of human livestock and babies), but has the bravery and guts to render out most of McCarthy’s hardcore post-apocalyptic set pieces.