Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Early (and extremely positive) script review of "The Road"

For the sake of those who haven't read the (amazing) novel, I've omitted the segments of the script. If you want to see them, click HERE.

No you're not seeing things. I hold in my hands the entire 123 page screenplay for Cormac McCarthy's The Road, written for the screen by Joe Penhall. Oddly, there is no cover page to help indicate which draft I might be looking at but each page is watermarked 9/11/07 (eerie eh?) and there is no question that this is a complete and fully realized work. To be blunt, the script is a complete stunner. It is a devastating masterwork which, I'm glad to report, has been written with absolute devotion to the original novel. If this is the script that gets filmed, then The Road will not only be the most important post-apocalyptic film ever made but it will profoundly affect the cinema going world. But I can't help but wonder; is the world ready for a film this dark? You can read the rest of our review after the break but I must warn you; there are some minor spoilers.

Those of you who've read The Road know how successfully it strips humanity bare and exposes the best and worst of our nature. There's no jaunty use of narrative framing devices like in No Country for Old Men, or playful genre blending a la All The Pretty Horses to blur the message either. The Road is McCarthy's masterpiece because the style is so friggin' precise that it becomes impossible to miss the point and equally impossible to put down. It is a very scary book and I'm here to tell you that this is going to be one hell of a scary movie. And I don't mean BOO scary here people. I'm talking about being confronted by how unbelievably evil we are scary.

I don't know how it's possible but everything, and I mean everything, from the book is in this script. No attempt whatsoever has been made to gloss over some of the book's more difficult subject matter and nowhere has Penhall tried to explain away the unexplainable. He truly gets this book and he gets why it was so effective. For example, we're still not told why the world is a charred smoldering pile of ashen snow, though there is a small hint at the beginning. The ambiguity is terrifying and Penhall is willing to let us draw our own conclusions about character motivations.

That's not to say there aren't some changes and surprises along the way. However, I'd say most if not all the changes are for the better. In some cases, scenes have been extended to create even more tension. If you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about when I mention "the house" scene. It is one of the tensest scenes in the screenplay and it has been extended to the point that it is almost unbearably suspenseful.

Surprisingly, most of the additions do the exact opposite of what I would have expected them to do. They actually make the world scarier, the situation seem more dire, and life more hopeless than the book even did. The first 15 pages are just scene after scene of powerful head-shaking stuff. I predict people are going to be blown away by how far this film is willing to go. And again, I don't mean to insinuate designer gore or cheap thrills but just dark dark dark subject matter and quiet, personal scenes of real life terror- like this one from page 8 and 9 of "The Man" reminding his son about the best way to kill himself:

[omitted scene]

When, within the first ten minutes of a film, you get a scene like this you know that everyone involved was willing to pull no punches.

There are also a couple of scenes that have been added to give Viggo Mortensen's character a bit more background. They are very minor and do nothing to disturb the flow or integrity of the original piece- though I wondered how necessary they really were next to the five or so flashback scenes that are also in the script. One added scene has "The Man" taking "The Boy" to the house he grew up in. My guess is that it has been added to hit home the idea of "what we've lost" but again, something about it seemed a tad extraneous.

Another thing that shocked me were the flashbacks featuring "The Wife" (which will be played by Charlize Theron). I had been assuming they would be altered or extended to cash in on Theron's star power but they are actually given quite short shrift and they are very much to the point. No slow-mo scenes of frolicking in nature or funny hat wearing dream montages here folks. At most I would say the flashbacks will probably occupy less than 5 minutes of total screen time and they mostly take place after "the event" which gives them narrative weight. I slightly question how Penhall has written one aspect of her character but, in the interest remaining somewhat spoiler free, I'll not get into specifics. Suffice it to say her character does something very strange and she seems a little too worldly in one scene. That's all I'll say on the subject.

Of course I haven't even mentioned the most crucial aspect of the screenplay and the one ingredient that will determine how well the film plays. That's of course the relationship between the father and son. Ultimately, this is a story about a father who is desperate to protect his son and get to the coast before winter comes. The dialog here is pitch perfect and very sparse like in the book but I gotta say that, in the end, it's all going to come down to young actor Kodi Smit-McPhee. This is a very demanding role for a young actor. Besides having never known the world of the past, the character of the son has at least four highly emotive scenes that involve all sorts of crying and carrying on. If handled with care this relationship could be powerful enough to become the stuff of cinema legend. The scene reprinted below is a minor one and doesn't betray any crucial plot points, but it is pretty indicative of the strong bond between the two characters and how scary life would be if they ever lost each other.

[omitted scene]

Even at the film's most epic and intense, it retains this close personal connection between the two characters and it's the one ingredient that will make this film deeply moving. The character of the father is no hero. But when pushed he will go to any lengths to protect his son. But, perhaps it's his willingness to do even the unthinkable and actually give a crap about someone other than himself that makes him as close to a hero as is possible in a world where everyone is is only out for their own survival.

So yeah, in case you couldn't tell, this script pretty much blew my mind. I loved it as much as the book and truly feel confident in predicting that the cinematic experience of The Road will be bold and unique. It manages to retain both the horror and the heart of the original piece. So, big thanks to our new best friend for sending us the screenplay. You rock!

Until Novemeber, keep on carrying the flame!

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