03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie review: The Road will rivet you

I worry about the fate of The Road, John Hillcoat's film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic Pulitzer-winning novel.

It's a moving and upsetting film - quality work that deserves to be in the Oscar hunt, both for Hillcoat's work and for the shattering performance by its star, Viggo Mortensen.

But here's the problem: It takes far fewer people to make a book a hit than a movie. A fraction. Serious fiction's audience can be measured in the tens of thousands - the hundreds of thousands if the book strikes a chord, the millions if it's that rarity that actually attracts a mass readership. Publishing's audience is what independent film's is becoming: literate and shrinking daily.

But movies measure success in millions. If all the people who read The Road subsequently went out and bought a ticket, that might constitute a sizable audience - for the first weekend of an arthouse hit. So fingers crossed that the film draws the kind of positive reviews it deserves (and this is one of those reviews) and attracts the kind of crossover audience that the book did.

The film has the same stripped-down feel as the book and a visual motif to match. The story is still deceptively simple: A man (Mortensen) and his son (Koki Smit-McPhee) trudge through the blasted landscape of a post-nuclear winter. The countryside is as gray as the sky; there is occasional rain, but the sky is always threatening and there is no sun. The ground is covered with a layer of what appears to be ash.

The pair approaches each day as a new adventure in their daily job: staying alive in this new reality, avoiding other people (who are scarce to begin with - and dangerously scary when encountered). Most of the people they see have succumbed to cannibalism, because there is little other food than humans.

Where are the man and his son headed? Continued...

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