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The Road DVD Review

The Road (2009) movie poster The Road

Theatrical Release: November 25, 2009 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Hillcoat / Writers: Cormac McCarthy (novel), Joe Penhall (screenplay)

Cast: Viggo Mortensen (Man), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Boy), Robert Duvall (Old Man Ely), Guy Pearce (Veteran), Molly Parker (Motherly Woman), Michael Kenneth Williams (Thief), Garret Dillahunt (Gang Member), Charlize Theron (Woman)

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Based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel, The Road is set years after a modern-day apocalypse. A father (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are among the few people living in a bleak, gray world still subjected to the occasional fire and earthquake.

Society as we know it shut down and hasn't restarted. With the planet seemingly dying, mankind's few remnants have been reduced to kill-or-be-killed savagery. The boy is concerned that he and his father remain "good guys", one of the bigger challenges they face.

This is about as bright as things get in "The Road", a post-apocalyptic drama about a young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his father (Viggo Mortensen) struggling to stay alive in a dying world rid of plants and animals.

Another big challenge is finding something to eat. The crunch on resources has left Earth's dwindling population with two main options: cannibalism and suicide.
The father and son aren't sold on either of those, but with nothing to distract them from starvation and misery, they're prepared to make use of their most valuable commodity: a gun with two bullets.

In a perpetual state of defensive vagrancy, the focal pair continues to head south on foot in hopes of reaching the coastline. Nearly everywhere they go, the closest to a sign of life they can spot are dismembered skulls and rotting remains. Most of the few others who are alive have formed violent militias the father and son try desperately to avoid.

Beyond the evidence and threat of death, there are vibrant regular dreams of pre-apocalypse life with the man's wife (Charlize Theron). Getting jolted out of these memories and into the grim present renders these flashbacks cruelly nightmarish and seems to add to the already abundant list of hunger-related health concerns afflicting the emaciated family.

Protecting his son seems to be the only thing keeping The Man (Viggo Mortensen) going. The cast's leading female, Charlize Theron's Wife character, is seen in intermittent flashback, some quite a bit more colorful than the film's heavily-muted regular palette.

The first American film and fourth overall directed by Australia's John Hillcoat, The Road is mightily depressing and almost relentlessly dark. It is also intriguing, a what-if survival scenario pitting nearly every world force against the human spirit and a strong parental bond. The unpleasantness of this setting heightens the few rays of light. The joys of nonperishable food have never before been vicariously experienced so vividly. Even if you're munching on popcorn, you're easily able to empathize with the helplessly starving plight conveyed.

On a film like this, there are no subplots or truly supporting characters. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee claim nearly all the screentime, more with raw reacting than acting. Though their exchanges aren't always natural, they're a believable and sympathetic duo carrying the ample weight of this haunting post-apocalyptic world on their shoulders. That co-stars Theron and Robert Duvall have been singled out with DVD cover critics' quotes is a bit odd considering their involvement amounts to little more than cameos.
Duvall at least conveys clear character as a non-hostile grizzled stranger encountered. Guy Pearce, who starred in Hillcoat's previous film (The Proposition), also makes a brief but lasting impression.

Like most non-blatantly commercial things released to theaters in the final weeks of the year, The Road was thought to be an award season player. But The Weinstein Company, who released this under their Dimension Films banner, had higher hopes for Nine and Inglourious Basterds. Not only did The Road not get any major accolades (in contrast to previous McCarthy-adapted darling No Country for Old Men), it also didn't get a very wide release, staying in fewer than 400 domestic theaters and doing two-thirds of its unprofitable overall business overseas. That dismayed one of the film's most outspoken producers, the Dallas Mavericks' billionaire owner Mark Cuban, whose name consequently has come up in the Weinsteins' disputedly-stalled negotiations to acquire their old Miramax library and name from Disney.

The third of at least nine Weinstein Company titles to be distributed on video by Sony, The Road comes to DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow.

Buy The Road on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $27.96
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc
2 Weeks Free - Blockbuster


The Road absolutely and deliberately looks dreary. Conveying the cold, perilous post-apocalyptic world, the picture is dark, drab, and nearly colorless in this satisfactory 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Skies are eternally gray and that reduces the largely outdoor photography to a muted muddy palette. And yet, within those limits, the stylized element is clean and its visuals sharp. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is also quite restrained, comprised largely of hushed dialogue. It does spring to life for some good atmosphere and pleases in both these bursts and the long, quiet stretches between them.

Father and son hear a dog barking in a decimated shopping mall in this deleted scene. A clean-shaven Viggo Mortensen holds Cormac McCarthy's book in high regard (and a heavily-annotated copy in his hand) in "The Making of 'The Road'." This unsettling shot of a gaunt Viggo Mortensen looking like the National Geographic girl is only brief seen in the film and on the menu, but Sony has preserved it as the DVD's Jacket Picture.


The fairly typical supply of supplements is topped by director John Hillcoat's feature audio commentary. Though he initially sounds nervous recording his first solo track, Hillcoat quickly settles in. Talking all the way through the end of the end credits with few gaps, he dispenses interesting information to enhance and elaborate upon what's on screen.
Among the topics covered are filming conditions, visual effects, trying to shield his child actor from the horrors (a tactic inspired by Kubrick's The Shining), filming a soda scene with five different brands, and Cormac McCarthy's input (or lack thereof) and approval. It's a solid commentary.

Next come five deleted and extended scenes (6:35), four of which are pure deletions and all of which are pretty interesting exchanges whose cuts deserve explanation.

Lone featurette "The Making of The Road" (13:40) is sadly promotional in nature. Interview remarks come from Hillcoat, screenwriter Joe Penhall, Mortensen, Theron, and Smit-McPhee. They discuss the book and its ideas (the guarded Cormac McCarthy is addressed but expectedly not interviewed) as well as one another and fellow castmates. That's all fine, but it barely touches upon the production design and bold techniques that you'd think would command notice.

Finally, we get not one but two trailers (each 2½ minutes) for The Road, both making the film seem far more accessible and Charlize Therony than it really is.

The Previews menu holds trailers for Youth in Revolt, A Single Man, Shinjuku Incident, Unthinkable, Defendor, Chloe, A Prophet (Un Prophete), and The Last Station. The first four play automatically at disc insertion. The routine main menu holds a tenderly-scored one-minute montage of father/son moments.

In the grim post-apocalyptic world of "The Road", technology is worthless, the sky is always gray, and cold, hungry people travel on foot.


The Road is a difficult and disturbing drama that re-evaluates human morality in a dying, starving post-apocalyptic world. It is weighty, engrossing, and, in stretches, supremely effective, but its pitch-black tone and setting make it more a challenge to endure than a film you'll enjoy. Still, it's definitely worth a look and, based on all the high praise lavished upon it, so is Cormac McCarthy's source novel. Sony's DVD contains a few good extras, but this is the kind of movie that would have lent itself to a fuller look at production.

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Related Reviews:
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Starring Viggo Mortensen: Eastern Promises | Charlize Theron: In the Valley of Elah • Hancock
Featuring Robert Duvall: The Godfather • Four Christmases • Sling Blade | Guy Pearce: The Hurt Locker • Bedtime Stories
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Reviewed May 24, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Dimension Films, 2929 Productions, Chockstone Pictures, and 2010 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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