Sunday, November 29, 2009

"The Road" takes it sadly all the way to Bleaktastic

Movies that are so dark, so challenging that they make even the most dedicated viewers look at their watch after only a few minutes are an acquired taste.  "The Road" is just such a movie.  Boy, is it ever.  I, for one, wish I'd not pulled this choice from the sampler.

I am one of the many that loved Cormac McCarthy's dark little gem, published in 2006.  Since the movie adaptation is obsessively faithful to the spare storyline of the novel, I won't offer up any spoilers.  But the primary reaction I had to the book was stunned wonder that McCarthy had managed to make it so hopeful.  Bleaktastic, if you will.  The problem with the movie is that all the while you're hoping for bleaktastic, you end up with honorably sad.  In short, this movie never should have been made.

That's not to say that any of the performances are bad or that anything about the production design feels even a smidge inauthentic.  John Hillcoat directed masterfully.  Nick Cave (who's worked with Hillcoat often before) did the spare, beautiful music.  The Coal Industry or The Coalition of American Fireplace Manufacturers appear to have done the makeup.  And, if I were especially dark-humored, I would say that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals did the location catering.  Because there's lots of cannibalism on the screen.  Rimshot.

So what you've got here is a movie that takes you on a two-hour slow grind through all sorts of dark places, both real and allegorical.  Even if you know exactly where it's going because you've read McCarthy's novel, you begin to feel like you don't want to go there.  By the showing, the telling becomes so much less powerful. 

I'll rate this movie a solid B.  Without a recommendation to even the most fervent fans, though.  Certainly everyone involved should feel good about what they've done here.  And maybe someday I'll watch it again and realize that I've misjudged "The Road" and ended up getting off at the wrong place.  For the time being, I'm just glad I could leave the silent theatre after the final scene and step into the sunny afternoon glow of a picaresque Santa Barbara day.  This may all be gone someday and covered in post-apocalyptic sadness.  All the more reason to head out for a nice Mexican meal with family where I guarantee you I'll be looking at the colors not only on my plate, but in the faces of those all around me.

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