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Films: The Road * * * *

(drama. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Michael Kenneth Williams, Guy Pearce. Directed by John Hillcoat. cert 16)

I somehow doubt that miramax will be sitting by the phones next weekend wondering how this long-awaited movie has fared against the runaway success of Avatar. After all, a release in the first week of January in the middle of the worst recession for 50 years and the most severe cold snap for a similar period doesn't exactly bode well for a box-office bonanza -- and that's even before you take the film's subject matter into consideration.

Set in the aftermath of an unspecified global catastrophe, Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel is an episodic journey following a man and his son through a blasted, ruined and dangerous landscape in search of some redemption at the coast to the south. The stark and sparse story was thought by many to be unfilmable but Australian director John Hillcoat has done a remarkable job.

The Road begins with a brief flashback to the cataclysmic event which sparks the end of days, as the Man (Viggo Mortensen) senses that things will never be the same again and immediately fills a bath with cold water, much to the bemusement of his pregnant wife (Charlize Theron). Thereafter we're plunged into the full horror of the shattered landscape which the planet has become as he and the boy (a remarkable Kodi Smit-McPhee) journey south in an attempt to survive.

The landscape which Hillcoat and his director of photography Javier Aguirresarobe have realised is a grey, ash-strewn wasteland, denuded of all flora and fauna and swept by freezing winds and lashing rain. It's exactly as I imagined it from the book.

The bond between the man and the boy is the heart of the story, as the pair try to scavenge tinned food wherever they can and avoid the feral gangs who roam the roads and have resorted to cannibalism.

The episodic nature of the tale sees the pair encounter an old, half-blind man (Robert Duvall) and a reluctant thief (Michael Kenneth Williams) in an unforgettable scene. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are wonderful and The Road is a movie that will haunt you long after the credits have rolled. Mind you, immediately afterwards you'll probably feel like having a stiff drink before heading home and sticking on a DVD of Singin' in the Rain. I know that's what I did. HHHHI