We’ve been openly fascinated with John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road since day one. The book, harrowing and quietly breathtaking, seems like a perfect fit for the sensibilities of the man who directed the excellent outback western The Proposition. Add Viggo Mortensen and a well-regarded but relatively unknown child actor as a father and son trying to survive in barren post-apocalyptic America, set it to music by Nick Cave, and it’s not unfair to hope for magic.

But John Hillcoat may be the one needing a special touch now. Rumors have been rampant for some time that the film was being pushed back from a planned November opening, and now THR corroborates them, saying that the film has ‘quietly’ been moved back to December, perhaps even next year, while describing the current cut as ‘decidedly not done’. The trade says a Thursday meeting will decide the film’s place on the calendar.

That explains why Dimension tested the film this evening. One of our daily messageboard posters, Kabong, attended that screening of The Road, and reported dire results to our boards before emailing me further detail.

…it was just a complete mess…the film never pretends to be interested in its opaque story, replacing what I assume would be literary details with bleak, miserablist [sic] moments edited together randomly, none feeling like they emerged from the same film.  It might just be unadaptable, because after the first twenty minutes the rest of the film is a crushing bore of a foregone conclusion- I think you can all guess what happens to the one character who mysteriously coughs all the time.

The focus group I attended railed against the repetitive score, which was probably temp but sounded like a minimalist new Nick Cave score that was heavy on the piano and droned through the heavily dramatic moments.

There’s no “movie” there.  The main crux- that Earth has fallen into a post-apocalyptic wasteland- is dealt with pretty vaguely, enough to the point where there’s really no allegorical parallel at all, and as far as intimate post-apocalyptic movies, they tend to be similar, in that they involve lots and lots of walking until someone important dies, and that seems to be the formula this follows.  The focus group also tore into Charlize Theron’s flashback role as Viggo’s estranged wife, who comes across as a screaming harpy with only a couple of minutes of screentime who unpleasantly ditches the family for no explicit purpose, as well as Michael K. Williams’ role as the only black man in the film, a guy who robs the hero and ends up humbled and without his clothes- cries of racism, as you could guess.

Product placement abounds as well, to a distracting level.  Apparently there is a Coca Cola scene in the book, but in the film it plays like a separate commercial, as Viggo gives his son his first Coke.  The boy remarks at how fizzy and delicious it is and the dad lets him finish it on his own as the child asks, “Is that because it’s the last one I’ll ever have?”

Harvey Weinstein was at the screening, and he left early- whatever that means, I’ll leave to the pundits.  But not only is the film unfinished for its supposed November release date, it’s also a complete fiasco on every creative level.

At least one potential big problem — the unexplained post-apocalyptic setting — is part and parcel of the book, and a key issue to tackle in cracking it for the screen. Many of these other issues, also things that are taken directly from the page, can likely be addressed in the editing room, and perhaps with some few reshoots, though I’d expect the latter to be a last-ditch effort. I am curious about the score, as the work Nick Cave and Warren Ellis did for The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James… was equally minimal and repetitive, though no less excellent for it.

This story has more layers involving Harvey Weinstein. There’s been a massive conflict behind the scenes of the Weinsten Company film The Reader. The troubled Weinstein Co. needs a big film and, hopefully, a strong awards contender. Weinstein pushed Reader director Stephen Daldry into finishing the film this year when Daldry and producer Scott Rudin both wanted to take more time. In the end, Rudin walked away from the picture last week, asking that his name be removed, while Harvey ponied up extra money for Daldry to oversee round the clock edits to get the film finished for a fall/winter open.

The Dimension-distributed The Road could have been backup Oscar bait for Harvey, especially given that it is a Cormac McCarthy project, and therefore related to Best Picture winner No Country For Old Men. (Also produced by Scott Rudin.) That is, if the film was finished, or even finishable, and able to open by December. Nothing we’re hearing makes that sound feasible. I’ll be very curious to hear what comes out of the Thursday meeting, and I’m now afraid that The Road will get the famous February Weinstein dump next year. I hope it doesn’t deserve it.