John Hillcoat’s “The Proposition” is a prime example of how the man gives the savagery a discordant but a rare treatment of a poetry. He is an obvious choice to take Cormac McCarthy’s novel to the screen. A book I thoroughly enjoyed and for the first time in a not so vigorous reading habit of mine, I was able to capture the versatility of the prose and the passages ending abruptly yet giving a meaning of itself. So the expectation is understandably high adding what can be called the mastery of dark music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. They were the scorers for another lovely masterpiece I adore, Andrew Domnik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford”. This is a resume for a candidate an interview might be an insult. You proclaim its greatness before you see it. But there is fairness and I need to exercise a dutiful departure from the adoration I have to avoid the contamination of the emotions I might feel. Much went against the film to be honest.
This might be the closest this novel of McCarthy might get its rightful treatment for the screen. Adapted for screen by Joe Penhall, this cannot be called completely faithful but carries the soul of the passages. In the post apocalyptic world where life has turned into black and grey, a man (Viggo Mortensen) has set forth the direction to south and take his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to the coast. Not much is left in this infertile earth a calamity which is not explained. Trees are falling, water is impure, humankind has becomes savagery than animals and life has no meaning. It is a black hole sucking the life with pleasure and pain.
Viggo Mortensen is an actor whose “Eastern Promises” and “Appaloosa” uses his chiseled face and the relentless charm to the characters. As the man in “The Road”, his face is covered with bushy beard and the prominent features of his body are ballooned by the ineffective jackets and clothes. He is worn out, beaten, tired and he makes us to believe that he has every reason to pull that trigger through his head. He also makes us to see the reason for his survival, to get the boy safe. This is not a purpose but he takes it as much as he can till either one would die. His carrying of this role is an inspiration from the book itself and he lives it up.
In this hopeless environment, both the man and son have forgotten the happiness defined in the world before. The son has an angel face but his eyes carry the ever growing doubt. These two are not ordinary father and son. This is where both the novel and the film turn around the perspective of the observer. The material pulls its viewer to this surroundings and roam around shoulder to shoulder with its characters. We understand the solitude and the abysmal expectation. This is not a film about tragedy but the adaptation of human soul. The shift in the moral and ethical survival diminishes and the line between the evil and good are erased and the darkness creaks from the cracks of the once balanced society.
Analyzing Hillcoat’s movie as a film alone and forgetting the existence of the book which most of the time is the case for me, it is a mastery of telling such a story. Now I can understand why certain critics gets disappointed or rather feel the rage when their beloved pages does not come out as they imagined. But that is not fair and “The Road” is the one I could relate to. It not alone stays sincere to the source but stands on itself. It is due to the actors which brings to the wonderful supporting roles of Robert Duvall and Charlize Theron. Duvall is the old man losing his sight and shares or rather does not share his story with Mortensen’s character. Over a dinner session in front of fire place, Duvall’s wrinkly torn appearance with the blinding white eye is saddening but Duvall makes that his time. Charlize Theron comes in the flashbacks and is encountering the beginning of this catastrophe. Their love is shown in couple of scenes, one simply the fingers caressing the piano and voices to tell it.
“The Road” takes it times and then immediately departs itself as something from a book into real. While Hillcoat is a man of dark poetry, there is only bleakness in this place and it is how it should be. The little moments of joy in between these two are not amplified and mellowed down. The boy played by Kodi Smit-McPhee is sometimes not convincing but then again the boy is a person from this world and often times the character of Mortensen need to remind himself that. He asks during a rare leisurely dinner scene, “You think I am from another world, don’t you?” and the boy nods. In any other film, it would have been an answer of no or silence, not here because this is McCarthy’s writing and Hillcoat leaves it as to be. Those choices with Hillcoat’s direction and performances makes “The Road” a film which scares and moves you.