Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, 2009's The Road follows a father and his son as they are trying to survive in a dead world where there are almost no resources left. There is no plant or animal life left, let alone much food and water. The very few humans that are still alive, are dangerous bandits that more than likely will rob them for their belongings, as well as taking the flesh from their bones just to fill their hungry bellies. There is little to be said as to what has caused the world to get to this darkened point, but there are flashbacks to a once happy life that would come to crumble under the pressure of the cataclysmic happenings.
I'm not really sure what else there is to say about The Road story wise, as it's as simple as watching a father and his son walk from point A to point B. They have a few run-ins with various people, some good, some not so good. They find food and shelter but are forced to run away due to fear of being cannibalized by scavengers. They are on a journey, but it's a journey to nowhere, essentially, which really makes their travel and need to survive completely pointless. While that may seem poetic in a way, it's unfortunately pretty boring to be quite honest.
The Road is about the despair of a father, a father that’s love and fear is so deep, he would kill his own son to keep him from being knowingly victimized by bandits. He even teaches his son that suicide is the alternative to being possibly raped and eaten by less than respectable survivors of this apocalypse. On the other hand, the boy has hope, a youthful hope, an unrealistic hope that his father knows can be very dangerous for the overly hopeful and trusting boy.
This is not a film that would focus on action but on emotion. Intense, heart ripping, emotion, and there are twenty gallons of that emotion displayed on screen, but not one single drop of it has any sort of impact. I'm not sure if I can pinpoint why The Road couldn't pull me into the character's plight, but it seemed as if it was expected of me to have certain reactions without earning them first. Without making me care for the characters beforehand.
I am the type of filmgoer that can easily have emotion projected on me, even if it is from a source that I have no personal connection with. I can channel it and be completely swept up by sentiment and passion, as I can simply relate to it as a human being with feelings. So maybe not having a child of my own could be looked at as a factor, but I seriously doubt that's the case. I should be able to feel a connection, whether or not I have a similar one in my own personal life.
It is that attachment that would make or break this film, and without it, The Road fails incredibly. I didn't root for them to make it because there was nothing to be made - there was no investment because there was no point. To make things worse, the boy was incredibly annoying on almost every level. The character is obnoxiously whiny and mopy, and it's not even because he is living a horrible life in a devastated world, it's because he has all this hope while his father doesn't. Give me a break.
Kodi Smit-McPhee's performance doesn't help any either, as everything he said and did drove me up the wall. He really gives Jake Lloyd a run for his money, and if he said 'papa' one more time, I may have tried to fit my head into the garbage disposal. I cannot help but think if there had been a better actor involved, the film may have been slightly more bearable for me, but I stress slightly because the character is hokey to begin with. Mortensen, on the other hand, is fantastic, but that is not much of a surprise, I suppose. Nevertheless, his gripping performance seems all for not since his character couldn't grasp my affection in the slightest.
It's really too bad, The Road is simply gorgeous and the look is what I think we all would come to expect if the world was indeed dead. The decay of the planet and the minimal characters that inhabit it are all very believable on an aesthetic level and the art department deserves much kudos for their projection of this lifeless future. While John Hillcoat's direction is technically solid, being the director, he also failed to deliver a film that could make me care at all about its characters and what happens to them. I never once felt their pain or even their few moments of happiness, and if I cannot feel it, why should I be invested in it?