Spoilers! Don't say you weren't warned
This is a first-response review written on about three hours of sleep after a midnight premiere. I will probably see it again in a few days to see if I've changed my mind about anything.
I'm glad the movie started with some establishing shots of what life was like "before." It's almost idyllic; almost Eden-like. These brief and dreamlike passages helped provide a vivid contrast to everything that happens later.
About ten years after a global catastrophe, a ragged Father and Boy travel across a wasted countryside. They see few people, and most of them are as dirty and hungry as they are. And, frankly, the only word for this situation is bleak. If you make a movie about the end of the world with a very muted palatte, there's no other word for it!
It took a while for the movie to get rolling. One thing Cormac McCarthy did very well in the book was to give a good sense of real geography. In the movie, Father and Boy go through random parts of the country, as if they were just wandering. Mountains became plains, and clearly ocean-going boats appeared on a dry riverbed when they were still very far away from the ocean. There wasn't even a single sign for "See Rock City." ;-> You never had the sense as you did in the book of the painful slog up and down the mountans. The most damaged countryside is seen extremely early in the movie, which probably wasn't the best choice. At one point near the end, Father and Boy spend a few days next to the "ocean" and there's no tide.
Another odd choice by the filmmakers were the constant extreme close-ups, so you could see every bit of grime on the characters. In some scenes, the cameras were so close to the actors that the actors looked very flat. The two times when the close-ups were very effective were the ones of Eli and towards the end of the movie.
Despite these criticisms, the movie looks right. The art direction and most of the photography was absolutely spot-on. The locations selected generally worked very well (my criticism about the traveling was more of the director's, editor's and maybe the writer's choices). There was certainly enough grime to go around even if the ash situation was generally played down.
And what about the acting? Viggo Mortensen gave one of the best performances of recent years. Kodi Smit-McPhee deserves very high praise for playing one of the trickiest roles for a kid actor in years and pulling off an American accent flawlessly. A few people have criticzed Smit-McPhee's performance, but I think he matched Mortensen point-for-point. And I would actually have liked to see a little more Charlize Theron. While Mother appeared in a few more scenes in the movie than she had in the book, much of her long fight with Father wasn't included. Robert Duvall and Michael K. Williams were great in small parts. I had mixed feelings about Guy Pearce, just because he felt "a little evil."
Another controversial area in this movie has been its music. I think the criticism was partially justified. The use of the slightly-out-of-tune piano for the keyboard was an excellent choice. But, particularly in the "tension" scenes, the music was too much. And it got overly Disnified at the very end, along with the movie itself for about a minute.
It's not a perfect movie, but it is a worthwhile one, and I recommend seeing it. 7.5 out of 10.