Home > Reviews > Review: “The Road” (2009)

Review: “The Road” (2009)

The RoadDirected by: John Hillcoat
Produced by: Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz
Written by: Joe Penhall (screenplay)
Edited by: Jon Gregory
Cinematography by: Javier Aguierresarobe
Music by: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Michael Kenneth Williams, Garret Dillahunt
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Year: 2009


(Portions of this review appeared in one of my previous articles, with thoughts and quotes expanded upon, updated, and edited throughout.)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is a depressing, relentless story of this nameless father and son traveling across a desolate, post-apocalyptic wasteland. Here is an apocalypse where any sort of hope at all comes from what remains with you in the present, right in front of you, because tomorrow is no longer a certainty, and people are no longer to be counted on to help. For this father, his son is the only source of hope that he clings to, and it is his sole ambition to keep the boy safe from harm, even if that means the safest route is a quick and painless death.

The Road - Cityscape

What caused the worldwide devastation is never clearly explained. Flashbacks imply it was sudden, with fires that quickly spread and turned the world into the wasteland they now travel through. Whether it be an act of God, man, or nature is not elaborated on, but the causes aren’t nearly as important as the bond of the father and son as they attempt to find hope amidst the hopelessness. Due to the death of most plant and animal life, food has become incredibly scarce, and many have turned towards cannibalism as they desperately end the lives of others in order to continue on with their own miserable existence. Though the father attempts to keep his son alive, he’s also concerned with his son carrying the fire for the good guys. They are starving and sick, but the father tells his son they won’t compromise their values, no matter how desperate. It’s an important lesson that he imparts on his son, one that begins to burn even brighter through him as they carry on with their journey.


Viggo Mortensen is fantastic in this film and was so dedicated to his role that he even starved himself to portray it accurately. And the boy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, is also one of the many child actors who are coming out these days as a great talent, and has already shown that he can continue to do so in movies like Let Me In. Charlize Theron also features as the wife and mother through flashbacks. Her scenes are more ambiguous in nature, but it lends a bit of backstory and gives some context for the father’s drive to not fail his son the way he feels he failed the boy’s mother. Though sometimes a bit too precious, Mortensen and Smit-McPhee’s scenes together are touching, realistic, and tragic, especially in scenes where the father demonstrates to the boy how to commit a painless suicide, should he ever face a fate worse than death. The matter of fact way it’s explained and the boy’s uneasy of acceptance of his father’s instructions show just how desperate this world has become.

The Road - Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee

Filmed in post-disaster areas of Louisiana, scorched areas of Mt. St. Helens, and in abandoned parts of Pennsylvania, The Road is dark both in subject matter and atmosphere, but the film remains quite beautiful in its touching portrayal of the characters’ bond, and the hope that the father holds for his son, even in this nightmare scenario, allows for the audience to remain hopeful for something themselves. Cormac McCarthy has all but admitted to writing the original novel as a demonstration of his own love for his son, and perhaps it’s best to take the story as an example of the lengths a loving father will go to in order to protect his child and his hopes that they will grow to be an even better person than he ever was. This sets The Road apart the usual sci-fi/horror post-apocalypse scenarios that are so common. Many of those often do contain a more meaningful subtext, but it’s often hard to find amidst the action and horror on screen. The Road is quieter, more contemplative, and, more importantly, far more intimate to worry about such things, right down to its refusal to go into details that do not involve or affect the father and son. In that context, The Road is a wonderful and rare achievement in filmmaking.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5

  1. maggiesmith
    May 27, 2023 at 3:59 pm

    Don’t watch this movie if you are depressed, or you might become suicidal. Same goes for the book. Thankfully, the film does not show the one scene nobody, but nobody, would want to see dramatized. If you have read the book, you know what I mean.

  1. July 12, 2013 at 12:12 am


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