Reclusive author Cormac McCarthy churned out thrilling high-literary fiction for decades before becoming, in his 70s, an inspiration to Hollywood. In 2007, the adaptation of his novel No Country for Old Men won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and this coming Wednesday, a film based on McCarthy's best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Road, will be released. In contrast to the novel, reviews for the movie are mixed. Some find that the adaptation strays too far from its source, others fault it for slavishly adhering to the text, and a third contingent thinks its right on track. (WARNING: Some spoilers below)
Lost Its Way
- Doomed from the Start Hitfix blogger Drew McWeeny concedes that there is an inherent difficulty in attempting to turn any of McCarthy's mysterious novels into films, but "The Road" may in fact prove the most challenging because it relies so much on the prose itself rather than a coherent storyline: "The dirty secret of McCarthy's justly-acclaimed novel is that the appeal does not lie in the story being told, but in how that story is told…'The Road' is all about language, about the evocative nature of how McCarthy paints his picture, and the spare emotional detail. It's a powerhouse of a book, but it's not especially a powerhouse of a story." As such, the film falls flat, breaking no new ground for the genre of post apocalyptic cinema.
- Wrong Direction Slant Magazine critic Ed Gonzalez places the bulk of the blame for his dislike on the film's bloated (mis)direction by relative newcomer John Hillcoat, which he says undermines the profound grittiness of the novel: "McCarthy's prose, rife with provocative moral inquiry and a heart-pounding sense of unease, strokes the imagination while Hillcoat's soothes it: Where The Road the novel is spare, relentless, gray, even anguished in tone, the movie version, with its brownish color palette and flowery flashbacks, is almost warm and inviting. In the first sign that Hillcoat doesn't trust his audience the same way McCarthy does, he fills the movie with countless flashbacks to its adult protagonist's life with his wife (Charlize Theron)."
- Writing for the Star-Telegram, Christopher Kelly explains how in attempting to accurately translate McCarthy's choppy, rhythmic prose to the screen, the filmmakers drastically over-compensated, cheapening the overall experience of the story: "In this excruciatingly literal film version, though, Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall get so bound up in translating McCarthy’s grim panoramas to the screen that they end up suffocating the audience. There isn’t a hint of hope, and the director’s few attempts at leavening the mood (the boy experiencing a can of Coke for the first time) come off as clichéd and ludicrous."
- Emotional Journey First Showing blogger Brandon Lee Tenney begins by acknowledging just how skeptical he was that the novel, one of his favorites, could make a respectable big-screen, big-budget flick. However he is very pleased to report that "The Road" motion picture successfully walks the tenuous line between faithful adaptation and heretical re-envisioning:
The Road is as good an adaptation of the novel as I could have imagined. It's true, thematically, tonally, and story-wise, to its source material, but it bravely winds through areas the novel didn't have to, but the film must. I haven't cried more often or more genuinely in a theatre… possibly ever. Though, again, this is not a film for the faint of heart or soul. It's at times brutal. It's shocking and filled with an encompassing desperation and unrelenting tension that can be uncomfortable. But any film that can make its audience feel so much, so deeply, any film that is able to explore such intangibles, such love, such humanity so honestly is something to behold with respect and admiration.
- Highlight of 2009 Writing for the New York Observer, Rex Reed claims only "reluctantly" finds himself in agreement with those who consider the film to be a modern-day masterpiece. Yet he himself is unabashedly effusive:
This is a magnificent picture—as unique and corrosive a view of 21st-century ruin as I have ever seen on the screen. The author [McCarthy] has been quoted as saying, “In 100 years the human race won’t even be recognizable,” and now, in his vision of the aftermath of cataclysm, he sets out to prove it. The chillingly realistic art direction and the Oscar-worthy cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe are dauntingly faithful to the blighted global catastrophe described so carefully in the book…Mixed reviews aside, I will not ponder the box office prospects of a film this daring and original. In a year of relentless trash, I can only shower it with praise for its fearless integrity in creating a work of art that is very valuable indeed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.