Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Skip this dismal 'Road'

"The Road"
2 1/2 Stars

By Joe Maniscalco

Look, I’m as misanthropic as the next guy – probably more so given the sad state of society – but even I was yearning for a heaping bowl of good ‘ol Christmas schmaltz and eggnog chaser a third of the way through director John Hillcoat’s “The Road.”

Counter programming is one thing – but come on, is Dante’s 10th, 11th and 12th circles of Hell really the alternative to singing chipmunks and magically reformed misers?

Make no mistake, “The Road” is a well-acted, and for the most part well-crafted piece of cinema.

Viggo Mortensen turns in a powerhouse performance as the desperate but courageous dad who valiantly fights to protect his only son in a dying world turned inside out.Nevertheless, “The Road” is one excruciatingly painful experience. Underline those words and remember them if you take away nothing else from this modest space: excruciatingly painful.

How bad is it? Well, familial murder and suicide are just the starters.

From there, “The Road” moves on to famine, cannibalism, the apocalypse and some really other nasty stuff I don’t even want to mention here.

Pass the popcorn and the Twizzler’s – yeah right!

After an unexplained cataclysm, Mortensen’s unnamed hero and unnamed son both hit the open road on foot with nothing but the faintest glimmer of hope ahead of them, and roving bands of Palin-esque rednecks at their backs.

The influence of “Deliverance” is, indeed, long and profound.

The only discernable turning point in the plot involves our hero, who in his zeal to protect his beloved son, slowly begins to lose some of his luster – and even sadder still, some of the boy’s respect as well.

The bleakness of Hillcoat’s universe is so complete that by the time he’s decides it’s okay to throw his audience even the tiniest bit of relief – in the final minutes of the unrelenting two-hour affair – it comes off as unbelievable, and totally incongruous with the world the director has painstakingly created.

“The Road” is hard. You just have to ask yourself how badly do you really want to avoid Tiny Tim once again intone “God bless us, everyone.”

“The Road.” Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-Mcphee, Robert Duvall. Guy Pearce, and Charlize Theron.


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