Saturday, July 10, 2010

Movie Reviews - End of the World Edition

I recently watched two movies both with a similar theme so I thought to review them here together. Both films concern the end of the world and probably anyone interested in one might want to see the other.The first is The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington. Washington stars as the title character traveling through a sun baked apocalyptic wasteland, fighting starvation, thirst and roaming highway gangs so that he can deliver "The Book" to "where it is needed". Gary Oldman also stars as a charismatic leader intent on taking the book from him so that he can use it to control the last remnants of society.

The second film reviewed is The Road starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee and is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. The story concerns a father and son and their efforts to stay alive in a world dying around them.


Of the two The Book of Eli would definitely be more palatable to the average moviegoer. While not really an action movie there is enough of it to keep the film moving and from becoming boring. Big name stars, memorable scenes and dialog, a (somewhat) hopeful ending, this is the more "Hollywood" of the two productions and most viewers, whether a fan of this genre or not, would find it enjoyable enough.

And then there is The Road; despite both films having a similar subject matter they couldn't be further apart. The world of The Road is an ashen gray wasteland and at times in the movie you might actually wonder if it was filmed in black and white. But the pallid colors of the film are only a backdrop for its bleak narrative. In The Road nearly every living thing is gone, all but a few human survivors. Forests and crops have been devastated, never to return, animal life has been wiped out, the Sun is forever hidden, depriving the world of warmth and light. Through an unexplained catastrophe the world we know is long gone. Ten years have passed and all that remain are the slowly starving survivors, all knowing that the world is dying and eventually they will to, their only options scavenging, cannibalism or suicide. The father and son with the goal to "head south" wander this wasteland trying to avoid contact with "bad guys" and to just live one more day. The father desperately trying to protect his son and at the same time trying to prepare him for the inevitable time that he won't be there to care for him.

Despite minor issues I had with some story details, in order that it could have its "surprise" ending, I did enjoy The Book of Eli and would recommend it. Any fan of science fiction in general will like it and would expect many viewers that don't normally watch this type of film would still find it entertaining.

After watching The Road though I still can't say if I would recommend it or not. I can't honestly even say if I liked it or not. I can say that it is a disturbing and emotionally powerful film; the ideas and imagery will linger in your mind long after seeing it. The abject horror of it all will remain with you. There are several unsettling moments throughout the film, one that immediately comes to mind is a scene where the father has to quickly decide between killing the son he loves or let him be taken by cannibals. That scene and others aren't easily forgotten. The movie is slowly paced and as mentioned the depressing tone can weigh heavy on you. The film doesn't really have a story and that is the point of The Road, there is none, the "story" is the relationship between Father and Son. Both Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee are excellent actors and are up to the difficult task, they bring the horror, tragedy and yes at times even inspiring moments in this film and bring them to life. The story of the father, who nearly loses his humanity while trying to assure his and his son's survival, and the son who represents the best of humanity and those traits that deserve tosurvive. If you should decide to watch The Road I can't say that you will enjoy it, but I doubt you ever forget it.


James Nonte said...

Great reviews! I just watched Book of Eli a few days ago and really liked it. I also saw The Road a couple of months ago when it first came out on DVD. You are right, The Road is a gloomy film but I think it is well worth seeing. It is just like you said, you might not like it but you will not forget it. I “liked” it well enough but I must say that I didn’t entirely buy the character of the boy. I have to admit that he is a good little actor but he seemed to old for the part he was playing. Still the story about the father and son was good and I am glad that I watched it.

Wilson said...

Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed The Book of Eli but it is more of a “popcorn” movie while The Road is different kind of experience.

Since my original review I have watched The Road a couple more times and have come to appreciate it more after each viewing. I have discussed the movie with friends and coworkers and even at a gun forum I regularly visit. In the discussions several recurring themes have come up, you brought up a couple yourself…

First the movie is dark and depressing, “gloomy”, you can’t get around that fact and it is probably the main reason that many don’t like the film and why it didn’t do very well at the box office. The Road will never be “popcorn”.

Also, despite the film’s trailer trying to make you believe otherwise, The Road is not an action movie. The man only has a gun with two bullets in it and he only uses one of them during the whole movie! If a film’s value to you is solely based on its action and thrills you will undoubtedly be disappointed with The Road.

You brought up another common complaint, the boy, many thought he was too old for the part (because of the book) and wasn’t very realistic. Let me say that I have not read The Road (yet) but even if I had I really hate trying to compare a book to a movie, they’re not the same. A book is a book and a movie is a movie, and the movie is all that I am discussing here. I know (because I have heard it over and over) that the boy in the book was much younger than in the film. I know (because I have heard it over and over) that a kid his age wouldn’t act like that in the real world. But in the context of the movie I must say that his character just seems authentic to me. The boy was born after “the end” and spent his entire life secluded and protected from the outside world. Yes, he was hungry and cold but he never knew any of the real horrors that were waiting out there. He was smothered by his parents and if anything was overprotected and babied. Emotionally he was a baby. So here is this 10 year old acting much younger than his age, even to the point of carrying around a baby toy thru most of the film. They even bathed him like a baby! Then once they leave the (relative) safety of their home the father is forced to try to get the son to grow up fast so that he could take care of himself.

The boy (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) did an excellent job and I thought he brought a genuineness to the character. He is an exceptional child actor (I didn’t even realize that he was Australian until watching the “making of” feature afterwards) and he, along with Viggo Montensen, are the main reasons to watch this film. Their performances are incredible and I have no idea why they didn’t get a nomination for their work here. The real story of The Road is the relationship between father and son and the love they have for one another. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee give that story life.

So to summarize:

If you’re looking for lighthearted “popcorn” don’t watch The Road.
If you’re looking for non-stop action don’t watch The Road.
If you’re looking for a heartfelt and emotionally powerful story about the enduring love between a father and son The Road is a movie you must see.

Cornholio said...

You make some good points about the road but i still like the book of eli better. guess i'm shallow.

Wilson said...

You can like them both, I do! I guess the point that I was making with my previous longwinded post was The Road is a movie worth seeing...

James Nonte said...

After reading what you said about the boy character I think I will watch The Road again. You have given me some things to think about! I like that! Good post!

James Nonte said...

Finally got a chance to watch The Road again. I must say that your comments helped. After reading what you wrote the boy character made a lot more sense to me. Depressing, but I agree with you the movie is worth seeing.