Three things that linger with me, some twelve hours after experiencing THE ROAD:
1) There are many excellent actors at work today, but few inspire the swell of admiration within me that Viggo Mortenson does. Here is a man who carved out a star-making performance as Aragorn, but who rejects conventional stardom and continues to choose difficult, fascinating roles. I can’t imagine too many “stars” doing the work he does in THE ROAD, becoming frayed to the edges in every way. The emotional nakedness and the fragile truth of his performance are astonishing. Watching those hollow eyes, you begin to sense that this is not just a film; it is a window looking out on a master crafting one of his greatest works.
2) John Hillcoat wisely limits his master shots of the desolate landscape to what needs to be seen, and it’s enough to draw the attentive viewer into this harrowing world. You’d think its beautifully drab scenery would weigh it down, but even in the quick glimpses the sense of texture – of immersion – is powerful. Which leads me to my next point…
3) The greatest sentiment I take away from THE ROAD is the assurance that this is a masterpiece waiting to find its true form. The film moves with an economy that often feels forced. There are many moments that cry out for Hillcoat’s camera to linger, and it doesn’t. As much as Hillcoat is careful with his wide shots and attentive to keeping an eye on the human elements of his story, I wish he would spend more time on the landscape of the human face (regardless of how you feel about the ending – I quite liked it, though I’m not sure I’m buying it – that final shot is one of the most wonderful moments in 2009’s filmography). I sincerely hope that somewhere there exists a longer cut of the film, and the means to make it available for release. The theatrical cut hints at greatness. It isn’t enough. This film deserves better. Another ten minutes might do it.
It is what it is: a father and son trudging through the wasteland. That the film is content to let this be its primary focus, never deviating, is the source of its excellence. As it is, it is one of the finest pictures currently in release. Maybe one day we’ll get a longer cut, and look back on THE ROAD as one of the final lights of the 00’s, carrying the fire of meaningful cinema into the next decade. One may hope.