Esquire Paints Dark, Beautiful Picture of John Hillcoat’s ‘The Road’


There are a few select films for which I have reserved unmatched excitement. And no, I’m not just referring to that robot-filled Michael Bay extravaganza that Paramount will be marketing to all-hell later this summer. I’m speaking of film’s such as John Hillcoat’s The Road, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy‘s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. It is a personal favorite of mine —  a genuine post-apocalyptic story focused on the charred remains of the human spirit that may remain once the world has been burned from sea-to-sea, a love story set at the very end of existence.

With this love for the novel comes a tense approach, critically, to any cinematic adaptation. And while a recent article from Tom Chiarella at Esquire does many things to put my mind at ease about Hillcoat’s adaptation, I’m not exactly sold yet. Sold, no. Excited beyond description, perhaps, but not completely sold.

What strikes me about Chiarella’s piece is not the overwhelming sentiment that this could be “the most important film of the year.” Because in fact, the way this piece reads, it is 1/2 access-driven puff piece and 1/2 genuine awe. But there are some details there, some observations by this lucky son-of-a-bitch at Esquire who has already seen said adaptation, that really resonate with me.

For instance, in talking about Viggo Mortensen’s performance in the leading role as “the man,” Chiarella mentions the dirty nature of the performance, but also the humanity in his functional fatherhood — something so eloquently delivered in McCarthy’s book. He then mentions that the film accomplishes its great task — the weathered and “without voice-over, without undue exposition.” That to me, on a very basic level, is exactly what I would like to see from this film — a story told in the empty eyes of its characters.

Chiarella also goes on to convey, in oh-so-many words, the knack that Hillcoat and his creative team have for creating this charred vision of Earth at the end of humanity. According to his report, the score from Nick Cave is “creepily spiritual” and the visual effects — which are the primary reason studio head Bob Weinstein has given for the film’s delay of over a year — deliver an experience that is “unforgettable” and “unyielding.” And this, for all intents and purposes, sounds like a beautifully dark and dreary representation of McCarthy’s vision in the book.

The only thing that worries me about this report is the description of the soon-to-be-released first trailer for the film. According to Chiarella, the film’s first trailer will begin with “glimpses of a storm, panicky news footage, little puzzle pieces of the world before it ended.” This should bother other fans of the book, just as it bothers me. The most frightening and striking thing about McCarthy’s book is that he never explains why the world is the way it is. In a sense, it doesn’t matter what has caused the gross deterioration of humanity and its home. What matters in the story is how the situation — the end to all things — effects those left to live in its wake. So to hear that the trailer will include this very clichéd blitz of exposition is cause for concern — my hope is that the film itself leaves this out, and focuses instead on telling the beautiful story of love and the human spirit that is at the heart of The Road. Time will tell, as always.

The Road hits theaters on October 16, 2009. I would strongly recommend having a read of the Esquire article (also, it is spoiler free).

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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