The Shallow End: All Over ‘The Road’

ON

After the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences strides down the mountain and hurdles the Oscar winners at us golden idol worshiping heathens, I always journey out to the local mall and buy a calendar at a 90% discount – my choices this year were between 12 months of almond-eyed kittens sniffing yarn balls and the balls out glory of the men of “Playgirl” (Check out the package on Mr. March; oh yeah that’s jealousy my friends). Only after the Academy Awards, would I dare say we have a foothold in the New Year.

So, along with a fresh calendar comes the pondering of the year to come. And for a cine geek like me that doesn’t mean family vacations or weddings or even vicious 2-week benders spent in Chattanooga or Boise. It’s all about upcoming movies.

Sure, Speed Racer, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Benefits of the Senior Discount, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 lash us into a delirious, bug-eyed frenzy like someone jolting a cage full of rabid spider monkeys whose sole diet has consisted of meth and blow since birth. Oh and there’s some mounting buzz for a flick by the name of The Dark Knight. Yet, as I’m setting up my plans to camp-out (fuck Fandango), I have to say none of these movies cocks my gun like a little $30 million post-apocalyptic movie due to be released (hopefully) this fall. And no, it’s not Cloverfield 2 the Streets.

It’s The Road, based on the uber-acclaimed-and Oprah Winfrey sanctioned-novel by Cormac McCarthy. If you don’t recognize the name you’re A) lacking good taste in fiction or B) living in that shoddy, backwoods cabin from Evil Dead, since McCarthy’s moniker waves hello in every article written on the adapted-from-his-novel No Country for Old Men. Okay, I kid…somewhat. If you’ve never heard of McCarthy, you’re still a proper, nose breathing human by my reckoning. After all, I’m writing this for the few of you who haven’t picked up the book. It’s short. It’s in paperback. It won the Pulitzer. It has cannibals chasing a father and son through the post-apocalyptic east coast. Did I mention Oprah loves it, a story with cannibals? What’s stopping you – other than the fact you may be sitting at the computer in the nude like me – from dropping all and buying it now? Get some underwear and boots on man and flock to the bookstore, shirt and pants be damned.

Yet, why am I burying the needle on the hype meter for this particular adaptation? Plenty of great books out there sliding onto the big screen. Again, it comes back to the novel itself, which tells the stark, subplotless survival tale of a nameless father and young son as they hike across a charred landscape and evade savage packs of cannibals. Haunting, profound, and delivering an emotional mallet to the gut (yeah I know I’ve just cribbed from the hackneyed tome of book review), “The Road” is the best book I’ve read in the last decade. McCarthy writes prose with such whittled elegance and rhythm his vision stakes a tent in the brain for weeks afterwards. “The Road” – as all of his books do – feels downright biblical, but without all of the bullshit. Plus there are fucking cannibals and that’s always wicked cool.

Some have said the novel isn’t cinematic. The same argument was made for “No Country for Old Men”. Look how that turned out (and the Coen brothers kept it very close to the book). No denying the novel doesn’t lend itself to a typical studio product. It’s gruesome, dour, deliberately repetitious, and mostly a two-character show. However, between the rich visual details, the harrowing set-pieces, strong characters and straightforward story, “The Road” maelstroms my interest because it has the ingredients of a great film-a lean, quiet, and cerebral piece of filmmaking.

Much of its success will depend on extracting a sense of poetry from the imagery. And I can’t think of a better director than John Hillcoat. Hillcoat helmed the The Proposition, arguably the best western since Unforgiven. It’s a film of familial bonds, harsh landscapes, gritty violence, and a lyrical tone that fits perfectly with “The Road”. In fact, while reading the book and thinking of actors and directors who could do McCarthy’s masterpiece justice, Hillcoat topped my list (and I pretty much back flipped my fat ass when I found out he was attached… then I bought some lotto tickets still full of huffy-puff confidence in my soothsaying skills, the results of which did not call for gymnastics).

The casting news has only jacked my excitement through the upper atmosphere like Sam Yeager on a death wish vertical climb. Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce (who I imagined as The Man when reading the book, but is apparently playing someone else), and the rumored attachments of Robert Duvall and a-movie-can-never-be-completely-horrid-if-it-has Danny Huston give me Obama levels of hope in this project.

It essentially comes down to this: if The Road sucks or distributor Dimension Films tosses the movie into a time capsule for release in the next decade (as they’re infamous for doing…Killshot anyone?), I’m going to have to carefully reconsider my life. We’re talking “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and a trip to India here, folks. Yet, my oracle talents feel on their game tonight, and I’m saying Cormac McCarthy and Viggo Mortensen can book their hotels and plane tickets for Oscars 2009.