Esquire leads us down The Road

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Thanks to good buddy Craig Kennedy at Living in Cinema for letting us know Esquire has seen The Road, and calls it “the Most Important Movie of the Year.” The feature article runs 3300 words — plenty to feed those of us who’ve been subsisting on scraps for months.

You should see it for the simplest of reasons: Because it is a good story. Not because it may be important. Not because it is unforgettable, unyielding. Not because it horrifies. Not because the score is creepily spiritual. Not because it is littered with small lines of dialogue you will remember later. Not because it contains warnings against our own demise. All of that is so. Don’t see it just because you loved the book. The movie stands alone. Go see it because it’s two small people set against the ugly backdrop of the world undone. A story without guarantees. In every moment ‚Äî even the last one ‚Äî you’ll want to know what happens next, even if you can hardly stand to look. Because The Road is a story about the persistence of love between a father and a son, and in that way it’s more like a remake of The Godfather than some echo of I Am Legend.

Esquire’s Tom Chiarella then says: “Only this one is different: You won’t want to see this one twice.” Chiarella clearly doesn’t know me very well. His assessment of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee after the cut.

The man is played by Viggo Mortensen, and he’s in virtually every frame. “The interesting thing about picking an actor for a movie is, you want to try to surpass the audience’s knowledge or expectations of what that actor’s about,” Hillcoat says. “We took a shot with Viggo as opposed to bigger box-office stars. In large part, he’s the right choice because, as good as he is, he’s still untapped.” Mortensen is brilliant in insinuating the father’s pain and communicating the hints of loss and his resistance to the inevitable. Burnt and sinewy in each scene, he registers a liquid panic in every glance at the woods and a sort of angry regret in every peek at the boy. Mortensen is a different filthy man in each function of fatherhood. You recognize them all, without voice-over, without undue exposition. He still cares. And it hurts more than ever to care.

Twelve-year-old Kodi Smit-McPhee is beautiful and wretched, luminous and somehow smaller than his age as the boy. But he’s full-blown in the part, his character concerned, like all boys, with the contents of his pockets, naturally curious about the few others they encounter ‚Äî an old man, an elusive child, a thief, a dog barking at the unseen end of a collapsed mall. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee wrestle for control like any father and son ‚Äî in dealing with strangers, in figuring out who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy, in matters of privacy, and in the divergent ways they treat others. Elemental shit, really. Just some simple old-world parenting, long before people harvested human limbs for Sunday dinner.

As good as this sounds, the bulk of Esquire’s article focuses on Dimension Films and director John Hillcoat struggles to bring Cormac McMarthy’s novel to the screen.

Cormac McCarthy fathered a son as an old man, and this story is an ode to a ticking clock, to the diminishment of time, to last chances. Last chance to parent. Last chance to warn, to train, to prepare. The father fights to teach. And the father teaches the boy to fight. In the movie’s first teaching moment, the father shows his son where to shoot himself in the head should it come to that. With the gun loaded. It is perhaps the movie’s only lurid turn, a moment that, like almost every moment in the movie, appears in the book as well. By the time it occurs, it is understood to be a gesture of necessity. There they are, citizens of a kind of now, bad teeth and all, pallid, filthy, damp to the bone, at their end, and whether you’ve read the book or not, the sight of it makes you seize.

“It’s a love story,” Hillcoat says. “So it moves you in a way that is quite unexpected.”

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