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Road (2005)

6.6
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Title: Road (2005)

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Slow but atmospheric.
6 April 2008 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Written and directed by Leslie McCleave, this is a deliberately paced story of ex-lovers united for a trip to Canada's worst toxic pollution sites. The young woman (Catherine Kellner) is a low-level bureaucrat whose intention is to photograph the sites with an odd-looking camera that evidently turns toxic objects red and renders those with only normal amounts of pollution a cool green. The technology isn't gone into, however, and unlike some such films, "Erin Brokovitch," say, we're not even sure what kind of contaminants we're dealing with.

It doesn't matter much to McCleave. It would be nice to say that McCleave is more interested in the two characters, but that doesn't seem to be the case either. If we weren't told at the outset that they were ex lovers there'd be no way of telling, because in the rest of the film they get along quite well. There are spats, sure. But these spats aren't any worse than the spats you and I have had with OUR ex lovers and multiple spouses.

The thematic structure seems to be organized around an eerie feeling of disquiet, of technical and human anomalies, that become more apparent as the film unfolds. The car is an old beat-up Dodge or something and the radio goes out. Then that toxin-detecting camera registers the correct images in the view finder but can't upload them, so they can't be saved. The car's odometer begins to go backwards. A stop at a diner leads to a tableau of local residents, all taciturn, all somehow queer. They stop for gas after 300 miles and find the tank is still full. The boy friend (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is generally good-natured and less intense than Kellner, but he finally gets fed up and leaves her at a gas station, instructing her to phone somebody to come and get her. (The phone doesn't work.) Alone, the boy friend drives some distance and reaches a crossroads where a prominent sign tell hims "Boone" to his right and "U.S. Border" is to his left. He turns left, drives through the empty countryside, and finds himself back at the same sign. Another crack at the border yields the same results, so it's back to the girl friend and the gas station out of "Twilight Zone" again.

The film isn't exactly over-plotted. None of the unexpected developments is more puzzling or threatening than the ones that have come before it. The impression the viewer is left with is an uneasy feeling that whatever kind of pollution these people are dealing with has some exceedingly mysterious effects on events and things, but it's all pretty murky. We've got one foot in the supernatural.

The two principles are decent actors. And one of the support players, a relatively normal kind of guy with whom they abscond, asks to be let out of the car after a while. Why? I mean, they've just kidnapped him and taken him away from a place that was turning him radioactive. "Ah figure," he explains, "that the farther away I git from one place, the closer Ah'm getting' to the next." (Who can argue with that?) The imagery, the photography and location shooting, however, are out of the ordinary, and the score is fine. It's essentially a trip movie through lovely and deserted temperate forests in mid-summer. The story takes us all through these woodlands on blue highways where the pavement is old and cracked and there's hardly another vehicle. A slight mist seems to rise from the fields and lends the visuals an oneiristic quality that most such productions wouldn't think of trying for. (The writers would be thinking about the next car chase, and about the truck rolling off a curve at high speed and exploding in a fireball.) This film, presumably because of budget limitations, is forced to look for something else, and for that alone deserves bonus points.


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