"Viggo Mortensen delivers a flawless performance, one that is almost sure to garner him a Best Actor nomination come Oscar time"

The Road is one of the most highly anticipated films of this year’s London Film Festival.  Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize Winning book by Cormac McCarthy (who also wrote the Oscar winning No Country For Old Men), it’s a bleak but beautiful journey through a frighteningly plausible post-apocalyptic landscape. 

An unnamed man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travel alone through a desolate rubble-strewn wasteland.  Our civilisation has been completely obliterated by an unspecified catastrophe; trees have no leaves, buildings are crumbling and the threat of savage cannibalistic gangs roaming the countryside is all too real.  Their destination is the coast and to get there they must leave their home, now too cold for them to survive without any supplies.

Director John Hillcoat, whose work on the fantastic Australian colonial drama The Proposition made it one of my favourite films of 2005, has effectively swapped one barren landscape for another.  He has this incredible ability to find beauty in the most desolate of environments.  He also brings a welcome restraint to his directing; he doesn’t linger on huge spectacles of devastation but uses them as a background with which to construct a sharp study of the fragility of humanity.

His stunning direction is combined magnificently with the cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe who makes shots of eerily leafless trees and burning forests reflected in lakes become so pretty that you almost forget that you’re watching the end of civilization.

Viggo Mortensen delivers a flawless performance, one that is almost sure to garner him a Best Actor nomination come Oscar time – he’s a man driven by the love for his son and he will do anything to protect him.   The film continually makes us ask, “Who are the good guys?” and as their situation becomes increasingly desperate, it becomes clear that it’s not just civilization that’s been eroded, it’s his humanity as well, Mortensen balancing the need to survive with his mounting paranoia.

He’s ably assisted by Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son, a child born into a devastated world with no knowledge of how things used to be.  He acts as a motivator for Mortensen’s character but is also a beacon of optimism and hope (as well as a frequent living reminder of his wife) and their on-screen chemistry makes for heartbreaking viewing.

The supporting characters are few and far between, this is predominantly a story about a man and his boy, but when they do crop up they’re outstanding.  A stunning turn by an almost unrecognisable Robert Duvall as The Old Man half way through the film is breathtaking and a note of optimism is delivered in an excellent turn by Guy Pearce.

The Road is beautifully shot, tautly directed and features some of the best performances of the year from its admirable lead Viggo Mortensen as well as its supporting cast. It’s uncomfortable but compelling viewing, a bleak but flawless gem, and one of the best films of the year.