On the Road is a celebrated novel by Jack Kerouac published in 1957. It is a partially-autobiographical novel of Kerouac’s own journeys and friends in the late 1940s, although he ended up changing the names of those the characters’ are based on to protect them or himself. It has become one of the more prominent works of the “Beat Generation.” On the Road, the film, premiered at Cannes in May 2012 and was followed by a limited release in the US in December 2012. Following another delay, the film is now released in more cities. I never hid my anticipation for the film, but having not read the novel that so many love, my view and opinion is limited to the film. I cannot speak to how faithful this adaptation ends up being.
Sam Riley plays Sal, the central character, author, and narrator of the story. Through friends (namely Carlo played by Tom Sturridge), he meets Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). A friendship develops that is strong enough to pull each other together, across the country, several times. Sal finds himself with writer’s block that arrives when Dean leaves. He heads out on the road to find adventure, tales, and Dean. Along for the ride are Dean’s dysfunctional relationship with his wives, Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Camille (Kirsten Dunst). Marylou is the free spirit, up for anything and anyone, while Camille is more of a homebody with an education and a possible career. Both are victims of Dean’s odd attraction and tendency to leave suddenly and for long periods of time. Sal adopts Dean’s on the road ways, but only those that are less extreme.
This really is a mesmerizing, grand adventure film. The only film that I can compare it to is Into the Wild. The films both travel the US and the central character meets an interesting mix of characters along the way. Both Sal and Chris try to find themselves in a way. On the Road does become tiresome in that I lost track of how many times Sal and Dean went back and forth across the country by themselves or with each other. The film meanders, telling a loose story, rather than striving towards an end point.
The film is shot and directed beautifully by director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and cinematographer Eric Gautier. This is the saving grace of some of the less exciting scenes, having something beautiful to look at, whether it is an actor’s face framed artistically on the screen or a beautiful landscape.
Sam Riley gets ample amounts of screen time, but I could not get the image of him as the creeper/murderer in Brighton Rock out of my head. His voice is distinctive and I wonder if this is just his raspy American accent or a mimic of how Kerouac really sounded.
Garrett Hedlund plays the crazy, ungrounded Dean well. The image of Dean with his head stuck out the window of a moving car in the winter so he can see, while he mutters the words Sal thinks are genius, is somehow poignant to me and all encompassing of what kind of character he is. Hedlund got the torment, crazy, sexiness, and drive that is Dean.
Kristen Stewart plays the young Marylou okay. Her voice, probably mimicking the real Marylou, is out of place for her, too high-pitched. The performance loses some credibility in the beginning, but is won back by the emotion shown towards the end. Stewart probably took a risk playing this role considering what Marylou does and how free she is with her sexuality.
The cast is large, filling in all the characters Sal meets along the way with some of the best actors today. Those include Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard, and Steve Buscemi.
I did not connect to On the Road in the way I thought I would. It is a good film with aforementioned great cast, direction, and cinematography. However, the constant back and forth road trips become a little tiring. The final moments of the film resonate and make this connection with beginning, almost like a circular event. If I had read the book, I wonder how much I would have liked it then.
I give On the Road 3 “Benzadrine inhalers” out 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek