At TIFF: The Road
Had I gone through life never having seen a movie in which a dad and his son wrap themselves up in filthy Timberland outerwear and wander aimlessly around fire-ravaged back country meant to resemble a post-apocalyptic America, occasionally stumbling into entire families swinging by their necks from barn rafters and hungry bands of cannibals who eye the younger of the two as if he were a delicious turkey drumstick, I think I would have been OK. But I have seen that movie, and it's called The Road.
Like last year's The Reader, The Road approaches its best-selling, Oprah Winfrey-approved source material like a sacred text, its director John Hillcoat fashioning a literal-minded and suffocatingly self-serious take on an inherently ridiculous premise. Not that you can really play a movie that begins early on with a father placing the barrel of a gun into his young son's mouth and encourage him to pull the trigger for laughs, mind you, but that doesn't mean that the audience won't laugh anyway.
The plot, as threadbare as the abandoned Pennsylvania amusement parks and farm houses that shelter our multigenerational survivalists throughout their meandering and somewhat pointless journey, is as such: Once upon a time, Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron had a lovely life together. But then something wiped out everything on Earth, except Viggo and Charlize, for some reason. Maybe it spared the attractive. Charlize's water breaks, she gives birth, she takes off to go die in the woods, and so Viggo is left to raise the child alone.
For the next two hours, they scrounge for food, occasionally finding success in the discovery of various beverages from the Coca-Cola family of products. One clear shot of the two chugging down Vitaminwater, labels facing the camera, produced an audible groan from my audience and led me to fantasize about the two being caught and similarly consumed by their pursuers, repackaged as Slim Jim brand People Jerky.
Viggo gives this part his all, to his credit, giving the film whatever heft it has; young Australian newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee, however, struggles with the part, up to and including the predictably tear-jerking final scenes and what feels like a tacked-on, audience-testing-approved ending. I love a good father/son weepy as much as the next guy, but sorry -- Smit-McPhee is no Ricky Schroder, and The Road is no The Champ.