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'The Road' could be the 'feel bad' movie of the year

Special Photo: The Weinstein Co.. Viggo Mortensen, foreground, and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in the post-apocalyptic drama "The Road."

Special Photo: The Weinstein Co.. Viggo Mortensen, foreground, and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in the post-apocalyptic drama "The Road."

The Road (R)

2 stars out of 4

If you need a reminder this Thanksgiving that things could possibly be much worse, you need to look no further than "The Road." Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, "The Road" is the art-house equivalent of "2012."

"The Road" is a post-apocalyptic drama that features characters without names inhabiting a world where they spend all of their waking hours trying not to get eaten by other survivors. By comparison, it makes McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" look like a rollicking, knee-slapping comedy. It's that bleak.

The always-intense Viggo Mortensen plays the Man and Kodi Smit-McPhee co-stars as his son, the Boy. We meet them long after their journey begins as they push a shopping cart down a highway in what looks to be the American Southeast. The landscape around them is littered with withered vegetation, the carcasses of rotting dead animals and the occasional human skeleton. Nothing they see shocks them in the least.

Whether it is a demolished office building, a highway underpass or a cluster of trees near a riverbank, The Man is always able to find a place for them to sleep at night. It is during these times that he dreams of his previous life shared with the Woman (Charlize Theron), the wife who bore his child and then decided suicide was preferable to mere existence. Her reasoning for this, while selfish, is completely understandable.

In his coat pocket, the Man keeps a pistol containing two bullets for the sole purpose of following the Woman's lead should all hope dissipate. One scene shows him placing the gun in his mouth to show the Boy how to end it all with the least amount of pain and suffering.

At various points during their march toward the Atlantic shore, the Man and the Boy escape capture and certain death three times and share a meal with the Old Man (a barely recognizable Robert Duvall). The meeting with the Old Man comes after an extended stay in an underground bunker that affords the Man and the Boy much- needed baths, dry shelter and enough food for the foreseeable future. For reasons that make little to no sense, the Man chooses to leave this fortified oasis and return to a life of terror and uncertainty.

As he did in his far superior but equally downbeat stunner "The Proposition," director John Hillcoat includes long passages with no dialogue, panoramic photography and a constant droning backing score.

Because of its sunny Australian setting and frequent bursts of violence, "The Proposition" was at least pleasant to the eye. In addition to being a total bummer, nothing much happens in "The Road" and its limited palate of dingy browns and dull grays only adds to the despair.

On the shelf for well over a year, Weinstein is releasing the film just in time for Oscar consideration and year-end top 10 lists. A few critics have already heralded its greatness and it might snare a technical nomination or two and maybe even a Supporting Actor nod for Duvall.

To call it the "feel-bad" movie of the year would be a colossal understatement and if not for a final scene that suggests some small glimmer of hope, it could rightfully be referred to as the most depressing movie of the last decade. (The Weinstein Co.)