There's something you should know about me before reading this review. I love post-apocalyptic survival. Just give me a wanderer traversing the wasteland looking for supplies and I'm happy. I Am Legend was the ultimate to me, just Will Smith by himself pillaging the apartments for cans of salmon. So The Road is my dream movie.
The Man (Viggo Mortenson) and the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wander an American wasteland. They have a few encounters with bandits and cannibals, but mainly they just walk. Their goal is just to head south, where maybe it's warmer and there's something to live on.
By the time this movie starts, there's really nothing left, but there are still plenty of places to look. Their shopping cart is full of slim pickings at the beginning, and they manage to stumble on some treasure troves, like an old vending machine. We do see how the Man distills water for them.
The flashbacks, which have been embellished from the book, show a bit more survival foresight. I imagine when the Man starts running the water, he's collecting all the water he can before the plumbing fails. They have a healthier stash of rations to live off of in the early days, so you see the easier times contrasting with the really hard times.
People call this movie depressing, but I don't see it that way. It's realistic. It goes there. They contemplate suicide as an alternative to this life. The Wife (Charlize Theron) addresses the very real issues of rape they'll face if gangs find them, or just giving up on what's left of this world. It's all about survival, though. There are costs to surviving, but they still survive, so that's not all bad.
All the dialogue from the book is there. The Boy talks about carrying the flame and being the good guys. The age of the boy may be subjective, but however old he is, it's a boy with no social experience, so he's a perpetual baby. The disaster that caused this remains unspecified, though there are hints of some fire outside.
The narrative drive may be vague, but that suits the survival story. It's just moving forward, not that there's necessarily going to be an end where they win. Survival is ongoing, until you stop surviving. Situations within the story are suspenseful, but the film really succeeds as an overall experience of ongoing survival.
The only thing I didn't care for was the score, which makes an effort to sound somber. We get it. It's a somber state of the world. That music overdoes it a little. This from a man who enjoyed seeing people eat bugs and spit up food because they couldn't swallow anymore. I guess I can forgive that music, considering the grotesque apocalyptic realities I got to enjoy.