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The Auteurs Daily: Venice, Telluride and Toronto. The Road

 

The Auteurs Daily

The Road

The RoadJohn Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, has been knocked around the release schedule for some time now, but David Jenkins (Time Out London) has taken "this potential lack of confidence as a positive sign: maybe Hillcoat had managed to tear the dark, withered heart from the pages and transfer it to the big screen, saddling the distribution company with the feel-bad tearjerker that everyone was secretly hoping for? Yes and no is the somewhat disappointing conclusion.... It's a tough film, and one worth seeing again, but on this first viewing it just didn't deliver."

"John Hillcoat has made a film of power and sensitivity that works remarkably well on the big screen," finds Geoffrey MacNab in the Independent. "It plays like a Dystopian version of Huck Finn. 'Tattered gods slouching in their rags across the waste,' was how McCarthy described the father [Viggo Mortensen] and son [Kodi Smit-McPhee] on their grim odyssey south across America toward the coast.... Hillcoat eschews morbidity for its own sake. His focus is more on the relationship between the man and the boy.... The Road is short on dialogue and very bleak in subject matter but nonetheless makes absorbing and affecting viewing."

"It aestheticises horror," writes Lee Marshall for the Evening Standard, "thus getting away with ugly, disturbing, even ghoulish scenes by turning them into the cinematic equivalent of those Sebastiao Salgado photographs of Brazilian gold miners.... At the end of the Venice press screening, there was a stunned silence. We had been well and truly pummeled - and then given an ending that seemed just a little trite, as if it had been imposed by accountants worried about the feelgood factor of a film that is about life being bad and then getting worse."

Updates: "The Road speaks to parents of their most unspeakable fears," writes Fionnuala Halligan for Screen. "A bleak Viggo Mortensen, his face etched like an El Greco painting, urgently and convincingly conveys his character's love and desperation, the actor's physicality heightening the sense of reality - a sense that becomes overwhelming by the hopeless third act, despite the attempted relief of the final moments."

"This Road leads nowhere," declares Variety's Todd McCarthy. "If you're going to adapt a book like Cormac McCarthy's 2006 bestseller, you're pretty much obliged to make a terrific film or it's not worth doing - first because expectations are high, and second, because the picture needs to make it worth people's while to sit through something so grim. Except for the physical aspects of this bleak odyssey by a father and son through a post-apocalyptic landscape, this long-delayed production falls dispiritingly short on every front."

"What a haunting, harrowing, powerful film this is," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Admittedly, in dramatising McCarthy's bare-bones prose, Hillcoat sometimes runs the risk of over-dramatising (I could have done without the plaintive music and the unnecessary slabs of explanatory voice-over). But no amount of window-dressing can distract from the tale's pure, all-consuming horror."

"'We're the good guys, they're the bad guys' is the maximum moral guidance Mortensen has to offer," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "They do shelter in a ruined church and meet a wizened old-timer named Eli who issues prophetic warnings, but the absence of God, and therefore hope, is a given throughout the film."

Updates, 9/4: "Post-apocalyptic cinema - from Mad Max to Twelve Monkeys to Children of Men - has proved time and again that there is nothing that production designers relish more than a hellish dystopian future to fire their enthusiasm," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "But even by the striking standards of the genre, Chris Kennedy's work as production designer is remarkable. Kennedy (who previously collaborated with Hillcoat on The Proposition) appears to have harvested all the ravaged, gnarled scrap metal in the Midwest and deposited it in twisted piles of automotive agony in every shot. The film is almost entirely composed of shades of suicidal grey."

"Whether or not the movie hits, or makes it into the Oscar top ten, finally, producers are chasing after the Australian director," notes Anne Thompson.

For the Evening Standard, Nick Roddick talks with screenwriter Joe Penhall.

The version Glenn Kenny saw in January may have been reworked a bit or a lot, but he still wonders whether he's seen the same movie as Todd McCarthy, with whom he argues on a few points. "I imagine that the film has to retain some of the imagery I found so impressive... It's worth noting in this context, then, what Esquire's Tom Chiarella wrote about it all the way back in May (violating a number of what they call embargoes, I'd guess); he called it the 'most important film of the year.' I'd like to think that he and I saw the same cut..."

Updates, 9/7: As Ali Jaafar reports in Variety, John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall are looking ahead to a slew of possible projects. Both may end up collaborating with Daniel Craig, albeit on different films. Penhall's considering a remake of Claude Lelouch's La Bonne Annee (1973) while Hillcoat may adapt Nick Cave's new novel The Death of Bunny Munro. Without Craig, Penhall is working with Mike Nichols on an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Deep Water; and Penhall and Hillcoat may reunite for an adaptation of Penhall's play Landscape with Weapons.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez reports on the Q&A at Telluride with Viggo Mortensen.

Update, 9/8: "The Road may be the most profoundly optimistic and life-affirming film you will see this year," argues Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "Those who have read Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name won't be surprised by this. John Hillcoat's faithful, near-perfect adaptation beautifully captures McCarthy's synthesis of all-encompassing darkness and enduring hope."

Updates, 9/9: "Unlike other movies about a desolate future, The Road is intentionally one-note," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "Where Mad Max matched the setting with an archetypical western hero and his B-movie revenge motives, The Road relies on imprecise details for the sake of thematic continuity. The world embodies fragility and doom, but its entire mythology is composed of abstractions. The perfunctory quest stays wholly subservient to the mood. It's a survival narrative about the futility of survival narratives, an existential rumination on lost causes."

As Ali Jaafar reports in Variety, the release date's set: November 25.

Update, 9/11: Charles McGrath profiles Mortensen for the New York Times.

Updates, 9/14: "More so than any piece of commercial hackwork that studios excrete every week, this is a horror film," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris.

Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "Someone like Michael Haneke would have no trouble embracing this material's uncompromising dreariness - in fact, Haneke already did his own post-apocalypse film in Time of the Wolf - but Hillcoat's version is a little soft and, in the closing minutes, regrettably sentimental."

"The story - which should be brutal and demanding from the start - goes down too easily, and the repetitive scenes of Mortensen dispensing wisdom become lulling, even dull," agrees Ben Kenigsberg at Time Out Chicago.

Updates, 9/15: "Like last year's The Reader," writes Seth Abramovitch at Movieline, "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."

"As usual in the existential-starkness sweepstakes, the main proof it must be art is that nobody's going to mistake it for entertainment," writes Tom Carson for GQ. A "story that's all in one key from start to finish probably tests a director's skill less than having to modulate among a variety of moods and characters to dramatize a theme, and while the novel may well have done that, the movie definitely doesn't."

Kurt Halfyard at Twitch: "Rest assured that The Road is the quiet and intimate drama, and very likely to be the bleakest multiplex movie of 2009 (should the distributor finally stop shuffling it back in the calender again and again) as it should be; yet, nevertheless between book and screenplay, something of the soul was lost in translation."

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

 

I haven’t seen the movie yet and I’m not sure that I will either. To adapt or not to adapt the novel, that is the question, and not a new one. I am a big fan of the novel precisely because — considerations of story, plot, etc. aside — the way that it’s written invites me to make my own film, so to speak, with my thoughts. When I heard they were making this into a movie a was very disappointed. There’s even something exhibitionistic about it, even pornographic: showing all. I want to do the work myself. I don’t feel this way about all adaptations from novels, only the ones that aspire to such fidelity to the source, as if there is one true reading that everyone can share. Why make it? It’s one person, Hillcoat et. al, trying to capitalize on the success of another’s work, to ride the tailcoat, and this is not creative. Using a novel (or whatever) as a generative source for one’s own exploration into unknown territory, that makes sense to me, and those are the film-adaptations that have worked best for me — those which don’t merely stage the book and show me how to see it, but those which, inspired by the book, invite me into a new process of imaginative thinking of my own. I could go on and on, but this is an old debate and others have articulated this better than I. Perhaps I will see the movie after all, and maybe I’ll like it. We’ll see.
Aw. Disappointing reviews. I’ll probably hold off on seeing it in Toronto and wait until its theatrical distribution.

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