There are two ways to look at The Road, sort of like there are two ways to look at life as a glass with water occupying half its volume. Is the glass half full (Optimist) or half empty (Pessimist)? With The Road, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, you can either view it as a religious allegory about the inherent goodness of man as shown in the love for a son by his Father, or 154 minutes of hungry walking. Me, I'm a pessimist.
Now there is a third way to consider The Road, the film, and that's based solely on whether you read the book or not — you should read the book, it takes about 3 hours, tops, with pee breaks — . If you've read the book then The Road, the film, is surely one of the best book-to-film adaptations I've seen in a long, long time. If you haven't read the book, then The Road is sort of baffling, almost minimalist filmmaking. There are only two characters, no clear villain, no relatable adversity over which to triumph, and relating to the world of The Road is almost impossible for the "off the street viewer".
Also, The Road, the book, is more than just a piece of prose, it's almost an epic poem, it's almost a mantra, it's a mediation on the end of the world, as told first person by Father as he and Son walk through oblivion to more oblivion. In that oblivion, Cormac McCarthy deconstructs humanity, and with them, custom, civilization, and language — as I often joke when discussing the book, Armageddon came and it took all the animals, most of the people, and half of the punctuation. The unusual prose adds to the weird vibe of the book. Set eight years after some undescribed and unknown catastrophe wipes out, well, everything but the last few people and some mushrooms, humans are reduced to two types, them who eats the them who gets eaten. Essentially, everything in the whole food chain is dead, trees don't leaf, grass doesn't grow, all that left to eat is in cans, if you can find any, or looking for cans.
Father (Viggo Mortensen) and Son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are walking south. It's some number of months or years since Mom (Charlize Theron seen in flashbacks) walks out into the dark to face being raped and eaten and Father and Son need to find someplace better than where they are. But, when the world has ended, where is there to go? We get to watch them stagger through the small cities, suburbs, wastelands of trees and fields and farms that parallel The Road leading somewhere, anywhere south. Both of them must scavenge for food all the time and hide to stay ahead of the cannibals who prowl the road for meat of any kind. That's pretty much the overall book and movie right there. The premise is very simple, yet still evocative. Little things like only having two bullets for their one revolver, and later only one bullet, or Father teaching Son how, if necessary, to blow his own head off.
Still, as a film (adapted by Joe Penhall), The Road diverges from the written source in a few places, a pivotal epiphany for Father in the book where he continues not eating his son based on drumming up that last ember of faith comes in the first two minutes of the movie. That sort of takes the wind out of the rest of the narrative because, like in the old Warner Brothers cartoons where starving characters see each other as food items, Father sometimes eyes Son the way he would a stack of pre-Armageddon pancakes. But knowing that Father sees Son as some sort of religious icon diminishes almost all of that tension. Other divergences occur when some small events that helped set the pace and timing of the book to sort of go along with Father and Son's starvation cycle don't need to be in the film. Though, for we readers of the book, it feels like The Road, the film, takes place in the space of a few days rather than the weeks and weeks and weeks of the book. Finally, almost all of the language that McCarthy sweated to create and in doing so show the distillation of thought to its barest presentation is gone too. Replaced here by amazing backgrounds of wasteland and decay that would make your typical rapture-kook drop to their knees and speak in tongues. It's not the same, but if you've never read the book it won't matter. There's enough desolation and gray for even the most obsessive watcher of Life After People reruns.
The Blu-ray comes with a commentary track featuring director John Hillcoat, which focused more on how he did different composite shots, where they did the outdoor shots in Pennsylvania and Oregon, and where he had the other effects work done. I can't imagine he'd have much more to talk about as there's almost no dialogue, and he stuck so close to the book. The Blu-ray disc also offers a set of deleted scenes, only one, the lightning man, was really missing from the narrative and after watching it, I couldn't understand why it was cut. Finally, the theatrical trailer.
The picture is theater quality without any signs of artifacting, (but then we aren't talking about digitizing a print of a film that was made in 1980 either). The Road is a mass of shades of gray with occasional bursts of vibrant color in flashback, but most everything you'll see is grayish. The sound, for when you need it, is flawless and captures every footstep and stomach grumble to be heard.
So, should you invest 154 minutes in The Road? Depends. Are you an optimist or a pessimist?