The Road – A Movie Review

Though The Road opened around Thanksgiving, it just came to my town a few days before Christmas.  This, along with the multiple delays and reshoots, gave me great concern that the movie would not live up to the source material.

My fears were unfounded.

Absolutely bleak and morose, the film perfectly captured the essence of McCarthy’s novel.  I absolutely believed I was looking at an apocalyptic landscape, especially because they made sure not to go too far over the top.  The landscape was covered with ash and burnt-out cars, but the skies were gray, the trees were bare, the streams ran, and the air was cold.  In other words, the world looked completely recognizable.  Unlike pure post-apocalyptic science fiction that leaves you feeling as though there wasn’t a chance in hell it could happen, The Road made you feel like, yeah, this could be what our tomorrow might hold, and that was a very scary feeling.

When I read the novel, it struck me as a potent work, but my wife and I were not yet parents back then.  Now that I am a father, the storyline took on a whole new meaning for me, and the brilliant Viggo Mortensen utterly conveyed the despair and hope of a father striving against all odds to protect and keep his son alive in practically lifeless conditions.  I believed in Viggo as the nameless protagonist, the everyman, and I saw some of myself in him, as I believe you will, too.

When my friend and I walked to our cars afterwards, another person who was in the theater yelled at us that he wanted his money back.  When I asked him why, he said the little boy was far too whiny for his tastes.  I have to wonder if he had a child himself, and if he did, if he could remember when that child was around nine or ten years old.  Personally, I thought the boy playing Viggo’s son did a great job, and he didn’t strike me as whiny at all.  Most child-actors take me right out of my suspension of disbelief, but this young actor made me believe in the story all the more so.

As a new parent, I particularly appreciated the fact that while The Road maintained much of the savageness of the novel, they did exercise discretion and left some of the more heinous scenes of the novel out, though they did hint at them.  If you’ve read the novel, you can probably imagine what I’m referring to.  There are some things a father simply does not want to see up on the big screen.

Which leads me to another point: I have a lot of trouble imagining someone enjoying this film if they haven’t read the novel.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this film was done about as well as a film can be, but if you have no idea what you’re getting into, I think The Road might be hard to endure.  In fact, some college kids behind us got up and left about half way through the film, mostly because they thought it was boring if I overheard them correctly.  It is a subtle, nuanced story with brief moments of nail-biting excitement, but mostly it is a steady, tense, quiet film with little dialogue and overpowering body language and facial expressions.

It is a relationship study, an analysis of the human will to survive, a social statement on the difficultly of maintaining morality in the face of abundant depravity, and it is magnificent.

Appaloosa – A Movie Review

This western directed by Ed Harris stars both he and Viggo Mortensen.  It also costars Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons.  I remember aching to get to the theater to see Appaloosa when it came out and really regretting I never made it.  So when I finally got around to watching it on DVD, I had very high expectations.

Those expectations were severely uncalled for.

On paper, the acting alone should have made this a great movie, but it failed to impress.  Mortensen, as usual, delivered a subtle performance, but he seemed to suffer from the haphazard plot and script.  Renee Zellweger’s role encompassed every negative trait you could give a woman, and I just don’t buy Jeremy Irons as a cowboy.  Sorry.  But Ed Harris – oh, Ed Harris.  Shame on you, you normally fantastic actor.

Ed Harris adapted this movie from the novel and directed it, so the clichéd dialogue, slow pacing, and uninteresting characters (exempting Mortensen, of course), fell squarely on his shoulders.  Harris’ character obviously meant to come off as complex, but I found him inconsistent and silly.   And frankly, the movie as a whole came off the same.  I counted the minutes until it ended.

Appaloosa looked great in the trailers, but failed to entice when watched in its entirety.  Even the amazing Viggo Mortensen couldn’t save it.

Hidalgo – A Movie Review

This movie stars Viggo Mortensen and, well, er, a bunch of people we’ve never heard of.  Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this film.  It’s about a man and his horse, a Mustang named Hidalgo that he’s partnered with but never tamed.  They seem to have an understanding between each other where neither is master, but both are friends on equal footing (figuratively speaking).  I must admit, there are some really touching moments between man and horse that will test your mettle.

The storyline isn’t anything spectacular, as it was “inspired” by Mortensen’s character, real life figure Frank Hopkins.  Notice it said, “inspired,” not “based upon.”  That’s a big difference in Hollywood.  However, if you’re going to get a modern day actor to play a weather beaten, mellow cowboy, Mortensen is your best choice.  By the way, the locations were beautiful, and just watching that magnificent horse is well worth the price of a rental. 

As I said, this film isn’t breaking the mold by any means, but there are some potent scenes that remind us just how powerful a living organism’s will can be when faced with insurmountable odds.

A History of Violence – A Movie Review

A History of Violence is one of those rare films where everything, and I mean everything, works.  The acting is superb across the board, the plot is absolutely riveting, the direction is excellent.  There’s very little I can say about this film without ruining the story for you, but just trust me when I say that Viggo Mortensen and his understated acting is a true treat.  This man is not receiving enough credit for his acting in this film.

I will offer one warning-the film has some very graphic scenes of violence, as the title would suggest.  Be ready for it.  It’s not anything that will make you sick, but it is very realistic.  For instance, if someone were to get shot in the face, well, it would stand to reason half their face would be missing, wouldn’t it?  The director, David Cronenberg, pulls no punches. 

You will be fascinated by this film.

Eastern Promises – A Movie Review

I really enjoyed Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, so when I heard they were teaming up again for Eastern Promises, I had very high expectations.

 

Eastern Promises offers a powerfully subdued yet intense performance by Viggo Mortensen as a Russian driver/enforcer working his way up London’s most notorious Russian crime family.  Mortensen has proven himself a chameleon with the roles he’s chosen of late, and I had no trouble accepting him as a merciless, cold, calculating—and oddly charming—criminal.

 

The premise of the story seems straightforward on the surface, but there are some complex developments that caught me unawares.  Essentially Naomi Watts, a hospital worker, is trying to track down relation for a baby recently born to a teenage Russian prostitute who died during labor.  All she has is a diary written in Russian, which, as fate would have it, leads her right to the door of the Russian mob and Viggo Mortensen.  Watts finds herself intertwined in an alien world, ultimately putting the baby in more danger than she ever could have realized.

 

Cronenberg delivers a compelling and utterly realistic film delving into a topic I found completely original.  I’ve never seen much involving the Russian mafia, especially one based in London, so there was nothing familiar to me about this movie.  I’m certain that’s one of the many reasons I enjoyed it so much.

 

There are moments of potent violence in Eastern Promises, but they are brief and not as frequent as you might expect.  The psychological tension is palpable in this film, and that’s what will have you on the edge of your seat more so than any bloodshed.

 

I would, however, be remiss to avoid discussing the infamous bathhouse knife fight.  Yes, Viggo Mortensen displays extreme devotion to his character by recording a scene totally nude as men attack him with knives in a bathhouse.  I suppose if you hit pause you could see everything you wanted to know about Mortensen, but it all happens so fast and the camera work is so sporadic that the viewer sees nothing more than glimpses and blurs.  I can’t imagine getting tossed around on tile floors like that without any sort of … well, you know.  Mortensen is definitely willing to take one for the team and suffer for his art.

 

Eastern Promises moved at an incredibly fast pace and the tense storyline and character-driven acting impressed me to no end.   I had high expectations for this film, and they were exceeded.