The Road

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(2009) ★★★★

BBC2: Friday 31 July, 11.35pm

“It’s okay,” Viggo Mortensen reassures young son Kodi Smit-McPhee, “it’s just another earthquake.” These weary two – pale, gaunt, grimey – pick their way towards the coast through a barren post-apocalyptic landscape that is as grey and bleak and drear as Beirut in a nuclear winter. Lonely and starving as they are, they’re wary of meeting others on the road in Oregon. Cannibalism is the great fear. Some, like Mortensen’s wife Charlize Theron (glimpsed only in fragments of dreams), have no stomach for survival in a destroyed world devoid of hope. Like Hitchcock’s The Birds, The Road offers no explanation for its catastrophe. Based on a story by No Country for Old Men author Cormac McCarthy, this humourless, grimly compelling drama is strikingly framed by John Hillcoat, who directed the excellent Australian movies Ghosts of the Civil Dead and The Proposition. He’s a real film-maker. The Road cements it. Nothing new, of course – zombie maestro George Romero’s been making doomy plague pictures for decades. But, certainly in its first hour, this is one of the stronger entries in a strain of cataclysmic fantasies that’s now so widespread it’s the 21st century equivalent of the American western. Acting honours go to Robert Duvall, mesmerizing and initially unrecognisable as a vagabond who pierces through the pieties of a campfire huddle. The music, sparingly used, is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Certificate: 15
Duration: 111min

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