Image Macall Polay.
© 2929/Dimension Films/MGM.
Director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall's faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road is finally on its path toward theaters.
The post-apocalyptic film premiered at the Venice film festival last week, and then screened again as part of a larger tribute to star Viggo Mortensen at the Telluride fest. It will show in Toronto Sunday night before its wide release October 16 [sic].
As stark and despairing as its source material, the film showcases Mortensen and young Aussie actor Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and son desperately trying to find food, avoid cannibals and hold on to hope in the bleakest of physical and emotional landscapes.
"It's been a long haul, a very intense experience," said Hillcoat last Sunday (referring not to the film's narrative but the path to wide release). "But I'm glad it's going out there now. And I was very pleased with the reaction in Venice. That's all you can ask for, really. That, and of course, Cormac's approval. He gave it a thumbs up."
At the time, Hillcoat was sitting next to Smit-McPhee, and they both looked exhausted. Later that evening, Mortensen would be feted by the festival and their film would reach another audience. But flying around in support of the film was taking a toll not unlike that of the making of the film itself. "Sometimes I just sit down like this and my eyes keel over," said Smit-McPhee, now 12 years old. "But I guess it's fun."
Asked about a memorable story from the shoot, Smit-McPhee, a native of Melbourne, described several takes of he and Mortensen wading into a freezing river. "The waterfall was the coldest thing I've ever swam," said Smit-McPhee, who noted that, luckily, the production had brought in a portable Jacuzzi to warm the actors back up. After two takes, though, Smit-McPhee had had enough. "Seriously, that was it. And I said, 'I'm not doing it.' And then Viggo came. He just jumped in the water like it was nothing."
The next day we related this to Mortensen who told us his side of the story. "It was an interesting conversation," Mortensen said. "First of all, I'm older, I was raised in a place where there was snow on the ground, and he's a guy from Melbourne. He had never seen snow, I don't think, before we shot this movie. And it was really, really cold. He didn't like it. And I talked to him like I always did, like a human adult. I just said, 'Well, you don't need to feel obligated by me or anybody else. And if you don't do it, it's pretty good what we got. And only you know if it's impossible for you to do it physically, I'm not putting any pressure on you. But: If you think you could maybe do one more, just think about the fact that, this movie is going to come out, and do you want to see that scene without your best shit in it?'"
Mortensen apparently lived the part - refusing to work out, sleeping on set and living on cigarettes and chocolate - to absorb the depredations of the worn-down father. During his introduction at Mortensen's Telluride tribute at the Palm Theater, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns quoted film historian David Thomson as describing the actor as "a grown man in an era of boys."
He also pointed out that Mortensen is not just an actor, but a poet, jazz musician, painter, horseman and a photographer. The guy even speaks five languages.
Soft-spoken and sporting longish hair, the 50-year-old Mortensen joked that he "didn't realize the end was so near" when he walked on stage to receive his medallion from Burns. Mortensen mentioned that his first role was playing "the ass-end of a dragon" at age seven in a play during the time he was growing up in South America. "It was just very hot in there," he said.