Call me a bit short-sighted if you will, but I honestly didn’t see this coming. The fact is, this is only one review, so it’s very premature to officially start worrying. But after that epic dissertation on the film’s merits published by Esquire earlier this year, this outright slam from Variety‘s top critic Todd McCarthy has me reeling. First spotted over at Jeffrey Wells’s Hollywood Elsewhere, McCarthy’s fangs-out review comes from a screening held out in Los Angeles earlier in the week, a pre-Venice Film Festival effort to get the buzz rolling with speed. If more critics follow McCarthy’s lead, though, that’ll prove to be a hufe “Dohh!” tactic. “Talk about your all-time backfires,” says sir Happy Gilmore.
Some discouraging nuggets from the Variety write-up…..
“[Director John] Hillcoat, who played with heavy violence in “The Proposition” and made some of it stick, shows no talent for or inclination toward setting up a scene here; any number of sequences in “The Road” could have been very suspenseful if built up properly, but Hillcoat, working from a script by Joe Penhall, just hopscotches from scene to scene in almost random fashion without any sense of pacing or dramatic modulation.”
“Dialogue that should have been directed with an almost Pinteresque sense of timing is delivered without meaningful shadings, principally by two actors who have no chemistry together. Unfortunately, [star Viggo] Mortensen lacks the gravitas to carry the picture; suddenly resembling Gabby Hayes with his whiskers and wayward hair, the actor has no bottom to him, and his interactions with [young co-star Kodi] Smit-McPhee, whom one can believe as [co-star Charlize] Theron’s son but not Mortensen’s, never come alive.”
“Scraps of narration by Mortensen seem like unnecessary afterthoughts, while the preponderance of scenes featuring the wife is explainable only because Theron’s presence needed to be justified by more screen time. Score by longtime Hillcoat collaborator Nick Cave and Warren Ellis borders on the treacly, softening the tone and further conventionalizing a film that should have gone the other direction toward something harsh and daring.”
If this review was written with a tad less venom and a counterbalance of optimism, I wouldn’t be as concerned as I now am; McCarthy sounds heated, though, so the red flag is waving. He’s pretty reliable as far as big-league critics go. My heart has cracked a smidge.