It is a dark day when a man is starving, hounded by the threat of cannibals, and has two bullets left in his gun for some final, fatal emergency – one for himself and one for his young son. The third novel from acclaimed US author Cormac McCarthy to be filmed, this impressive work adapted by British playwright Joe Penhall and directed by John Hillcoat is a chilling tale of loneliness and survival which, at times, dips into the horrific.
An unknown calamity leaves little life on Earth, and in the post-apocalyptic wilderness, "the man" (Viggo Mortensen) and his son "the boy" (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journey to an American coast in search of food, shelter, safety and in naïve hope of a better existence. They are haunted by memories of wife and mother (Charlize Theron) and her decision to desert them, choosing death over this bleak new world.
Despite the daily grind, the story is laced with suspense through the man's mistrust for the humans he dubs "the bad guys", who shockingly hunt, trap, kill and even farm their own kind for food. The boy fears that they will turn "bad" to survive, offering glimpses of morality that save the mood from overwhelming gloom.
Almost all adaptations lose when compared to the original novel. That aside, The Road is laudable for being beautifully acted, terribly poignant, and ultimately deeply disturbing – because it does not feel all that far-fetched.