Having read Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, from which The Road is adapted, I had reservations over whether director John Hillcoat could replicate the sheer lyricism of the novel. The film is good, and Viggo Mortensen’s depiction of ‘the man’ is superb, however, the film doesn’t match up to the art of the novel.
It was always going to be a great challenge to any director who took up the task of adapting McCarthy’s work. His prose is bleak, halting and trudging, and mirrors the journey along the road both tragically and beautifully, and cleverly captures the reader with a lyrical sublimity, which seems difficult to accurately render on film.
The only director who could have realised such a vision – and forgiving his average remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho – would perhaps have been Gus Vant Sant. By using a combination of conventional and non-conventional techniques, he may have achieved a similar award winning result as he did with Elephant, a winner of the Palme d’Or.
A great strength of The Road was the outstanding cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe. Eschewing the use of CGI, stock footage from Hurricane Katrina, images of bloody tracks in the snow from the Kosovo Conflict, and real locations of abandoned highways, and bleak and wasted landscapes, were used to more immediate effect in creating the post-apocalyptic mise-en-scene. I read in a separate review that this can perhaps be read that apocalypse is potentially with us presently, and if not careful, we could well find ourselves in similar circumstances.
In The Book of Eli, the story takes a more action-oriented approach, with breathtaking moments of cleanly choreographed bloody fight scenes, which are supported by great editing. The first fight is shot with Eli (Denzel Washington) in silhouette as he takes out an entire gang of highway robbers with precise and deadly strokes from his large knife.
Making his way west, Eli stops at a local town under the influence of Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who is searching the country high and low for the titular book – the last of its kind. It just so happens that Eli is carrying the book, which he reads from every day. Blamed for the atrocities that caused ‘the flash’ thirty years ago, all the books of its kind were destroyed in the wake of the war. Carnegie is obsessed over gaining possession of the book, which he calls a powerful weapon, so that he can influence and be worshiped. He lacks the right words and ideas, however, which he knows can be found in the book.
The film is a decent effort by directors the Hughes brothers, but suffers from two major flaws. Firstly, the introduction of Mila Kunis as a sidekick forces Eli into expository dialogue, which had been avoided in Gary Whitta’s screenplay. She is perhaps also miscast, making you wonder what a fashion model is doing roughing it on the road.
Whilst the cinematography was great overall, the use of CGI seemed out of harmony with the rest of the mise-en-scene. The digital composites stuck out rather than dissolving into the screen.
The greatest problem, however, is the film’s ending. There is a moment towards the end which provides a logical spot for ending the film, however, for whatever the reason it continues into a final act. Rather than tie off hanging story threads, it confuses with illogical plot developments.
Regardless of the negatives mentioned above, both films are above the blockbuster standard, and give great opportunity to experience the post-apocalyptic genre film from two different directorial viewpoints.