Not long after we ran a post this morning on The Road’s probable delay, John Wilson, one of our intrepid New York interns, helpfully e-mailed to inform us that not only was the movie screened for the first time in New York last night, but also that he’d been there. Cinematic Happenings Under Development has already run one scathing report from the screening, evidently from a hater who never read the book (he mostly takes issue with the movie’s “bleak,” too predictable plot: “I think you can all guess what happens to the one character who mysteriously coughs all the time”), but according to Wilson, it’s very good and doesn’t look too far from completion. His spoiler-y impressions after the jump!
However you adapt it, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is going to be bleak. Director John Hillcoat, a relative unknown, gets it just about right. Arguably the best parts of the film (aside from some stellar acting, which I’ll get to in a minute) are the postapocalyptic urban exterior scenes — burnt-out malls, crumbling highways, long-abandoned neighborhoods. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Hillcoat did most of the filming in and around Pittsburgh, a bastion of urban American beauty, but every inch of the landscape and set seems to be painstakingly trashed.
Hillcoat expands the book’s flashback sequences to give Charlize Theron more screen time (she’s good!), and contrasts the grayscale color palette of the movie-present with the vivid one of the movie-past. Viggo Mortensen seems to play a mix of Aragorn from Lord of the Rings and Tom Stall from A History of Violence. His unnamed character is human and believable (and naked at one point — Viggo didn’t want you to forget Eastern Promises). As his son, newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee holds his own.
Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall tone down the more gruesome parts of the original novel (we don’t see the baby on the spit, for example), and they never actually show any of the cannibals eating people (we only see charred bones and a severed head). The scene in the basement, with the prisoners waiting to be eaten, is jerky and brief, though the camera lingers just long enough for us to see that one legless man has already been nibbled on.
Aside from a few sound glitches and yet-to-be applied color correction, The Road seems pretty close to completion. At the end of its two-hour running time, the crowd I saw it with (made up of those lucky enough to be walking through Union Square when they were passing out free tickets last night) applauded.