Here's the master post for the 'On the Road' Reviews - enjoy!!!!
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•• The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy: A beautiful and respectful adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s landmark novel that intermittently leaves the ground to take flight.
Walter Salles's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's generation-defining novel is vibrantly visualized and features a "perfect" Kristen Stewart.
Making a screen version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road has been an elusive fantasy for numerous filmmakers in the 55 years since the Beat classic was published. Brazilian director Walter Salles, the man who finally got to realize the dream, has done a respectable job of it, and at moments better than that, though the film rarely busts out to provide the sort of heady pleasures it depicts.
Opening in France and some other territories on the heels of its Cannes Film Festival premiere, but not in the United States until autumn via IFC and Sundance Selects, this France-Brazil co-production is fronted by a very attractive cast and is highly promotable to a sophisticated public familiar with the material. Still, the film’s ultimate success will hinge upon whether younger audiences can connect with this vibrantly visualized period piece about the birth of the American counterculture.
Kerouac fantasized about co-starring as himself opposite Marlon Brando’s Dean Moriarty, and several directors -- most prominently Francis Ford Coppola, an executive producer here -- wrestled with an adaptation. Set over a few years beginning in 1947, On the Road is the story of youthful searching, yearning and striving for experience and truth by a handful of hipsters in their early 20s who, very much against the grain of a conformist period, eagerly embraced drugs, experimental sex, black culture and jazz, and life outside the yoke of steady work and conventional family constraints. In modern parlance, they pioneered an alternative lifestyle; the fact that they looked scruffy and wore T-shirts and jeans makes the characters onscreen resemble normal kids anytime from the late-‘60s until today.
Kerouac famously wrote the book in a three-week creative spasm on a single 120-foot scroll, and Salles has attempted to find cinematic equivalents to the author’s fluid, jazzy, quicksilver prose. The colors are intense, looks and gestures are fleetingly caught, rhythms are varied to convey highs and lows of perception and sensation. A feeling of great fidelity to and high regard for the material courses through Jose Rivera’s adaptation and Salles’ directorial attitude (the pair effectively warmed up for this road trip with The Motorcycle Diaries eight years ago).
But there are several barriers to representing On the Road in effective movie terms. First is the lack of dramatic structure; the book is about several journeys, each eventful in its own way, but it remains fitfully episodic. The filmmakers deal with this by making a climax out of Kerouac finally breaking through his creative block and writing the book, but the lonely spectacle of an author typing has never proved cinematically interesting and still doesn’t here.
Furthermore, while Dean Moriarty represents the essential life force, the mad one who burns like a Roman candle, much of his Benzedrine-and-booze-fueled behavior comes off as just reckless and irresponsible; onscreen, anyway, he seems more suitable to be envied rather than admired.
And lingering over the entire enterprise is the question of whether it will be clear to uninitiated and young audiences what the characters are rebelling against. Aside from Kerouac’s briefly seen mother and family, the “straight” world is scarcely glimpsed -- and nor should it be, as this was not an intention of the book. But the film provides little sense of how contrary and counter to the norm the characters’ thinking and behavior were in the context of the time.
After burying his father, the Kerouac figure Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is taken to meet wildman Neal Cassady stand-in Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), who answers the door stark naked, having been interrupted during sex with his saucy teenage wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Lots of voiceover, along with shots of Sal vacantly staring at his typewriter and toting around Swann’s Way, accompanies the aspiring writer’s eager embrace of life’s exotic but hardly inaccessible stimulations, beginning with New York jazz clubs and drugs and, after heading to Denver, some sexual sharing with the supercharged Dean and Marylou.
Athletically built, tousle-haired and up for anything, Dean attracts men and women, comes and goes as he pleases and abides by no rules; no sooner does he divorce Marylou than he marries the more stable Camille (Kirsten Dunst), with whom he starts having babies, even as he returns to Marylou for further travels and fun.
Although the story is Sal/Kerouac’s, the star part is Dean, and Hedlund has the allure for it; among the men here, he’s the one you always watch, and the actor effectively catches the character’s impulsive, thrill-seeking, risk-taking, responsibility-avoiding personality.
As embodied by a solid, if inherently reactive Riley, Sal is good-looking too, but in a more boyish, innocent way. Intimidated by Dean just as he idolizes him, he has the guts to follow far down an uncharted road where most others wouldn’t. He sometimes takes detours, among them an abridged romance with a Mexican girl (Alice Braga) while picking cotton with migrants in California, and continues to put in time trying to write at his mother’s modest home in Queens.
But it’s the group adventures that count the most, and Salles has captured some of them quite evocatively: A wild New Year’s Eve party where Dean and Marylou dance in a sexy frenzy; a calm and weird stay at the Louisiana home of the William Burroughs character, Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen, very fine); another sexy scene in which Marylou simultaneously pleasures Dean and Sal (out of camera range) as they all ride naked in the front seat of their car; Dean’s escape from domesticity with Camille as he joins Sal at a club to see Slim Gaillard, and a wild sojourn south of the border for mind-blowing weed and Mexican whores.
Less effective are Dean’s quest for his long-lost father in Denver, the windy ramblings of Allen Ginsberg equivalent Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and an out-of-left-field episode involving a fastidious gay man (an unbilled Steve Buscemi) keen to buy Dean’s services.
While the film’s dramatic impact is variable, visually and aurally it is a constant pleasure. Eric Gautier’s cinematography is endlessly resourceful, making great use of superb and diverse locations (including New York, Canada, New Mexico, California, Louisiana, Mexico and Argentina). The cars, beginning with the central Hudson, are terrific, as are the décor, clothes and wide range of music. The film was researched to the limit, and it shows.
Stewart, selected for Marylou five years ago on the basis of her striking debut in Into the Wild, is perfect in the role, takes off her clothes more than once and nearly always seems to be breaking a sweat, which kicks the sexiness quotient up high. Amy Adams is frumpy and into a mysterious zone of her own as Old Bull’s odd wife, while Elisabeth Moss is obliged to carp and complain as the severe fellow’s unsuitable house guest.
•• The Beat Museum, Jerry Cimino: On the Road Delivers!
In life, some things are worth waiting for. Case in point: the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel, On the Road.
On the Road premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. I had the opportunity to see a prescreening in Los Angeles a few days prior. It’s been a long and perilous journey for this movie—over thirty years in the making. Along the way, filmmakers and studios have come and gone, and major Hollywood actors have aged out of the parts. The reason Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt can no longer play the leads is because On the Road is a story about young people finding their way in the world—and today’s young people are going to love it.
This is a film that many have said could never be made, some saying it should have never even been attempted. There were so many constituencies to balance—the die-hard fans who have read the book twenty times or more and want to be sure all the subtlety and nuance is included; young people new to the story, who will be coming to see the movie because their favorite actor or actress is starring in it (possibly naked! …or so they have heard). Then there are the real-life people who lived it—those who are gone, and those who are still with us—whose stories are being told. On the Road honors them all.
Most of all, On the Road honors Jack Kerouac, and is true to his novel. Director Walter Salles has said on many occasions that his foremost intention was to be true to the book. His aim was for more people to read Kerouac. He has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. I went into the prescreening on Monday expecting I would like it. After all, I knew the reputations of the people involved, and I personally witnessed the passion and dedication of the cast and crew. But you never know what you’re going to see until you see it, and what I saw on Monday was nothing short of magnificent.
Purists will be elated. Subtleties and nuances from the book are seen throughout the film, sometimes in dramatic fashion, often with no mention or fanfare at all. Those familiar with Kerouac’s vivid imagery will immediately notice how director of photography Eric Gautier captures the golden glow of America and the breathing landscape of the lush, verdant hillsides. Thanks to a stirring score arranged by Gustavo Santaolalla, featuring classic bebop and jazz standards, as well as his own arrangements, the film moves along smoothly and fast, even at 2 hours and 17 minutes. There is never a dull moment, and no wondering where it will go. Those of us who have loved this novel for the greater part of our lives will recognize moments and dialogue and backstory that won’t be apparent to others, and those who are new to Kerouac will have the joy of experiencing a masterfully woven and terrific story with wonder and with fresh eyes. How could these people have been doing these things in 1948?
Yes, there is sex, yes there are drugs, yes there is jazz. Plenty of sex, plenty of drugs, plenty of jazz. Yet the purist knows the sex and drugs and music is simply the backdrop of the story—the landscape upon which the true themes of the story—quest for father, desire for family, search for “kicks,” and “IT” unfold.
The actors all hit their marks. The supporting cast of Tom Sturridge, Kirsten Dunst, Danny Morgan, Alice Braga, Elizabeth Moss, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and Steve Buscemi—each has their own stand-out moment, as if they’re riffing their own solo in an ensemble.
Then there are the three leads: Sam Riley as Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac), the witness and observer—it’s through his eyes the story is told. Kristen Stewart as Marylou (Luanne Henderson) in a role she was born to play. Her young fans are going to see her like they’ve never seen her before. Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady)—the guy who always wins, always gets the girl, and whom every young man wants to be—until you find out the price he’s had to pay to be who he is.
And then there’s the Hudson! Ah, that Hudson—it’s almost a character unto itself. “That Hudson just goes!” we hear numerous times in the film, and go! it does. The ’49 Hudson sounds like a rocket ship as it barrels down the highways of America. And so much of the story between the characters plays out in that car; the intimacy and the immediacy of their interactions. Just wait until you see what the characters are really doing as the three of them sit naked in the front seat… I howled with delight as the secret was revealed.
At The Beat Museum in San Francisco, we receive visitors from around the globe every day. Coming to North Beach is a kind of pilgrimage for fans of The Beat Generation. In the two months since the release of the movie trailer, I have personally met dozens of long time fans of the book who told me they literally cried upon viewing the trailer. I understood the sentiment. They had been carrying so much angst for so long, hoping against hope that when the movie was finally complete it would do their favorite book justice—and when they saw the trailer they suddenly realized their hope just might be realized.
Rest easy, my friends. If you’re like me, you are going to absolutely love this movie. These film makers got it right. They are kindred spirits in the story of The Beats. Kerouac fans will be proud.
•• Filmoria, Chris Haydon: Rating 3,5/5
This morning’s Competition entry here in Cannes is one of the festival’s key players, but also a picture approached by many with a staggering amount of trepidation. Brazilian director Walter Salles helms On The Road – a supposedly ‘unadaptable’ adaptation of the famous Jack Kerouac novel. Having not read the book, concerns about whether the picture would or wouldn’t work didn’t particularly phase me, but it seems the masses were a bit edged at the idea.
After the passing of his father, aspiring and struggling writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) embarks on a cross-country tour of the United States during the 1940s with his close friend and figure of admiration, Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund). Moriarty has recently married the beautiful and free-spirited Marylou (Kristen Stewart) who also joins their road trip. The group set out to find themselves, explore life’s possibilities and thrive in the hypnotic Beat culture that surrounds them.
On The Road is the longest film I’ve seen at this year’s festival, clocking in at 137 minutes, and during that running time we get a slightly mixed bag; so let’s start with the good.
Salles’ latest is an unashamedly beautiful spectacle; each and every frame is rendered and coloured to sheer perfection – the film has that sun-soaked, sand-dusted tonal age which illuminates on-screen and is so delicately crafted and constructed. On The Road also wonderfully captures its era with its score, scenery, dialogue and costume; everything culminates to make a staggeringly handsome and historically accurate portrait of all-American Beat living in the late 40s/early 50s. Nowadays, it can be a tough challenge to totally transport audiences back in time, but Salles’ adaptation really embedded the years and times upon me.
Also good are the performances – it’s so hard to believe that the Garret Hedlund here is the same bloke from Tron: Legacy; talk about a cinematic transformation. Dean is a character overly idolised by the impressionable Sal and indeed by those who come in contact with him. He possesses a somewhat desirable lifestyle to many, yet he is laden with infinite sadness and stacking ill-fate which is shaded by his confident, care-free exterior. Hedlund’s demanding and layered lead performance is nothing short of fabulous and watching him shake away those lightcycle demons is beyond pleasing.
Stewart is also fantastic here, giving the type of performances she thrives with, which are often overshadowed by her Twilight alter-ego. In fact, she’s probably the strongest out of the three; her Marylou rings of her role as Em in Adventureland which is perhaps her most established and confident screen-turn in a major release. One has always defended Stewart’s abilities and many-a-critic have been biting their lips after watching her in On The Road today. Riley’s Sal takes a little getting used to as the whole ‘puppy dog’ affection for Dean starts out as a little too homoerotic but actually he forms and builds into a character much more emotionally rich and three-dimensional.
So far so good right? Well here’s what’s wrong with Salles’ screen version. For starters, the film is tediously self-obsessed and knowingly aware of it’s arty, pretentious ideologies – On The Road feels the need to constantly remind viewers of how life-affirmed and culturally viable the trio are despite spending a large portion of the time getting high or engaging in experimental sex. A lot of the picture seems strangely pleased with itself, as if it needs to pat its own back just to remind us all that it’s worthy of congratulation.
Also, the film features some well performed but ultimately redundant cameos from Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and Viggo Mortensen - they all carry the air of ‘add-ons’ just to make the promotion seem starrier and to a higher profile. Working their way amongst these three cameos are shortened, yet strong turns from Tom Sturridge and Kirsten Dunst , making the wider character development seem like a practice jigsaw; shoving in pieces into spots that don’t quite fit and then endlessly re-arranging.
I heard a fair few continuing the ‘unfilmable/unadaptable’ debate as I left the screening and because I haven’t read the text, I felt out of place to comment but from where I sat, On The Road works fine as a feature film – it’s occasionally heavy-handed and seminal with its overtly indie narration, which I imagine is based upon extracts from the novel, but fundamentally it’s a success from a filmic standpoint. The two terms above are wrong in my opinion anyway; nothing is ‘unfilmable’ per se, it’s just some things do not need to be adapted – perhaps the time of writing, style or tone is perfectly fitting for page and projecting it seems irrelevant.
Applying this theory to On The Road, I would say it is a relevant work and for the most part Salles gives strong, assured direction to a film that was clearly a task to create and maintain; and overall there was a lot more that I liked about the film than disliked. This is a gorgeous, ambitious and sentimental picture that may have some irritating issues, but I cannot deny that I was wrapped up in the strange, hipster lifestyle these three presented. As a result, I want to drive across America even more than before.
•• Variety, Justin Chang: A classic novel’s long journey to the bigscreen comes to a gratifying but not exactly triumphant end with “On the Road,” a handsome visual companion to Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation touchstone that seems unlikely to occupy a place of similar resonance in the hearts and minds of those who see it. Evocatively lensed, skillfully made and duly attentive to the mercurial qualities of its daunting source material, Walter Salles’ picture pulses with youthful energy but feels overly calculated in its bid for spontaneity, attesting to the difficulty and perhaps futility of trying to reproduce Kerouac’s literary lightning onscreen.
IFC/Sundance Selects’ pre-Cannes pickup should draw robust specialty returns with a fall marketing campaign emphasizing the film’s pedigree and attractive cast, a potent combo of prestige and sex appeal that should have especially strong pull with younger viewers.
Widely considered unfilmable despite the movies’ long-running love affair with the open road, Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical tale of wanderlust and self-discovery has passed through the hands of innumerable writers and directors since exec producer Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights in 1978. Kerouac himself asked Marlon Brando to spearhead a movie version in the late ’50s, an era whose social, moral and cinematic climate would scarcely have allowed the type of picture that has emerged more than half a century later.
Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera previously tackled a story of idealistic young men traveling cross-country in “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and here they seek to render Kerouac’s recollections of postwar America in a vibrant, present-tense idiom. To that end, the film employs a jittery syntax — fleet handheld camerawork, frequent jump cuts and a swinging jazz score that erupts at regular intervals — to supply a superficial equivalent of the author’s restless prose, supplemented with abundant helpings of sweaty sex and occasional nudity.
In keeping with the improvisatory Beat spirit, Rivera’s script necessarily truncates the novel’s incidents and incorporates elements from Kerouac’s famous original scroll. That much is clear from the outset when Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), an aspiring French-Canadian writer living in 1947 Queens, N.Y., references his dad’s recent death — a scroll-specific detail employed here to impose an overt fathers-and-sons theme on the material.
Not long after the funeral, Sal meets handsome Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), the skirt-chasing, marijuana-smoking, car-stealing rascal who, as modeled after Beat icon Neal Cassady, serves as the story’s irrepressible, irresistible central figure. First seen opening a door stark naked (not for the last time), Dean is the life of a seemingly endless party, loved by his moody wife, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), and lusted after by young poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge). Exerting a gravitational pull on Sal, Dean implores his new friend to join him later out West.
Hitchhiking his way to Denver, Sal finds Dean carrying on with not only Marylou but also classy blonde Camille (Kirsten Dunst). Dean continues to toggle between the two women throughout, confusing things further by occasionally coaxing Sal into joint lovemaking sessions with Marylou. While the two men never act on the homoerotic underpinnings suggested by their affectionate relationship, the film is fairly candid about Dean’s sexual availability to either gender, provided there’s something in it for him.
Having retraced Kerouac’s routes in preparation for and during the shoot, the filmmakers work hard to impart a sense of texture and duration to Sal’s travels, distilling minor episodes into brief scenes and carving out a longer narrative arc from the book’s essential passages. A New Orleans visit with Sal’s morphine-addicted mentor Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) and subsequent misadventures in San Francisco, New York and Mexico collectively form a whirlwind of incident that doesn’t suggest the raw confusion of early adulthood so much as the compromises and sacrifices of an imposing screenwriting task.
Salles compensates to some degree with a certain stylistic verve, stimulating the film’s rhythms with jazz-band interludes and close-up dance sequences. Yet despite the high level of craft here, it’s an inadequate substitute for the thrilling, sustaining intelligence of Kerouac’s voice.
Admittedly, any definitive adaptation would have to adopt a radically avant-garde approach to approximate the galvanic impact Kerouac’s novel had on literary form. But even audiences content with an easy-listening version may be put off by the weak conception of Sal’s inner life. The blur of events and surface impressions onscreen consequently feels overlong at 139 minutes, yet nowhere near long enough, and even Riley’s appealing, bright-eyed turn can’t keep Sal from seeming a passive, psychologically weak protagonist.
The other actors hit their notes effectively, particularly Mortensen and Sturridge as the respective alter egos of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg; and Stewart and Dunst, whose warm, emotionally accessible turns lend Marylou and Camille more flesh and character than they had on the page. But the meatiest thesping opportunities naturally go to Hedlund, who brings a winning, boyish quality to the id-on-legs that is Dean Moriarty. Though propelled by a feverish, even convulsive energy, Hedlund also gets moments of quiet reflection that encourage sympathy for Dean’s irresponsible behavior.
A tour de force of location scouting, the film revels in the beauty of American highways, bridges and landscapes that, as showcased by Eric Gautier’s crisp, lush widescreen photography, perfectly illustrate what Sal at one point calls “the purity of the open road.”
•• Hitfix, Drew McWeeny: 'On The Road' makes great use of Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, and Sam Riley.
CANNES - Many filmmakers have attempted to adapt Jack Kerouac's seminal novel "On The Road" over the years, but Walter Salles is the guy who finally wrestled it up onto the screen. It is a largely successful attempt to bring the book to life, and it follows the same sort of episodic rhythm that Salles utilized so well in "The Motorcycle Diaries." While I would not call it a towering accomplishment, it is far more successful than I would have expected knowing the source material.
It would be interesting to take all of the films that exist that deal with the Beat Generation and the various characters who defined the era and look at how these people have been interpreted though various artistic filters. After all, "On The Road" was Kerouac's biography, but through a very thin filter of fiction. He renamed people, turning himself into Sal Paradise, the novel's narrator, while he turned the charming and charismatic Neal Cassady into the iconic Dean Moriarty. Cronenberg's adaptation of "Naked Lunch" used a similar device, taking the unfilmable William Burroughs novel and turning it into a film that is as much about the writing of the book as the book itself. We've seen films like "Howl" and "The Sheltering Sky" tackle the era and the figures who wrote those remarkable works, and there are, of course, plenty of documentaries that also tackle the era, giving these people a chance to make a case for their own place in cultural history. The result is that we've got a pretty dense tapestry of material to choose from now if we want to try to understand what it was like to both create these works and to live in an era where they were fresh and causing major cultural shifts.
"On The Road" does not feel like a dry history lesson, nor is it overly reverent toward its subjects. Instead, Salles, working with screenwriter Jose Rivera, managed to make something that has a pulse of its own, and that's due in no small part to the casting of Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley as Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise. They have a strong, easy chemistry that pays off over the course of the film, and it provides a solid base upon which the rest of the film is built.
Kristen Stewart plays Marylou, one of the many women who exist in Dean's orbit, drawn to his life-force and repelled by his inability to stay in one place, and it's good work from her, further indication that as soon as she puts the "Twilight" series in her rearview mirror, she's got a promising career ahead of her. There is something simultaneously innocent and carnal about Marylou. There's no guile to her, and she is very clear about what she wants in every scene, very direct in the way she obtains it. This was a point in post-war America where morals seemed to be up for grabs, when people were trying to define some new way of life, and these characters never realized that they would become symbols of that quest. They were just chasing sensation and love and freedom, and the cast embodies that yearning with grace.
Tom Sturridge makes an excellent Carlo Marx, who was Kerouac's stand-in for Allen Ginsberg, and I would love to see a whole movie about Old Bull Lee, played by Viggo Mortensen, who does a spot-on William Burroughs here. Amy Adams is Jane, Bull's partner in life, and the movie catches her at her most vulnerable and damaged, something Adams is able to evoke with real empathy. Kirsten Dunst plays the other most significant woman in Dean's life, his wife Camille, and it's a tough role because she's the one left outside looking in. She doesn't want Dean to keep wandering, but she knows she can't stop him. The pain she brings to each scene as she realizes he's just not going to be the husband she needs him to be is palpable, and Dunst does nice work with not a lot of screen time.
Yes, the film feels episodic, but that's the nature of the material. It takes place over several years and traces the whole arc of the friendship between Sal and Dean, and for that to work, you have to see that time they spend together and the way it changes not only them, but the people around them. Marylou spends much of the movie casually handed off between the guys, and sometimes shared by the both of them, and the film acutely observes the difference between Dean and Sal in how much they are able to disconnect the basic social programming of "normal" society. Sal looks up to Dean for his ability to grab every sensation in life without hesitation or fear, and Dan looks up to Sal for his ability to turn these experiences into art. The real difference between them only becomes clear over time, as Sal begins to bloom into a more complete and healthy person, while Dean can't help but run the moment something threatens to matter to him. There's a sorrow that lies just beneath the surface of Dean's decadent revelry, and Hedlund evokes that well.
Even the actors who show up in small roles do well with what they're given. Alice Braga plays a migrant worker who helps Sal during his first stretch of time away from home, and Elizabeth Moss has a few nice scenes as a wife abandoned by one of the many people who fall under Dean's spell. Steve Buscemi shows up for one memorable sequence that happens as Dean is starting to really struggle to retain his identity while still allowing for almost anything in terms of experience. And for those who are curious, yes, the open sexual atmosphere of the book does indeed translate to the screen, and all the actors seem to handle it with a frankness that is to be admired. I'm sure Stewart heard every argument in the world for why she shouldn't do onscreen nudity, but there's no hesitation or discomfort in the way she plays Marylou as an enthusiastic partner for both Dean and Sal.
Two of the key collaborators Salles worked with on "Motorcycle Diaries" return here. I think Gustavo Santaolalla writes great film music that really captures an emotional state, and Eric Gautier, the director of photography, is one of my favorites working right now, bringing a crisp vibrant eye to film after film. They all elevate the material, but again… this is no museum piece. In the wrong hands, "On The Road" would feel like homework, but Salles managed to set aside the reputation of the piece and try to simply portray it in the same honest, direct voice that made it such an important book in the first place. When you see it onscreen, without the cascading power of Kerouac's meth-driven language, it seems smaller somehow, less "important," but Salles certainly can't be faulted for how he approached it. His "On The Road" has a real heartbeat, and it's a trip worth making.
•• Arts Beat, Manohla Dargis: CANNES, France — At one point in “On the Road,” Walter Salles’s respectable, muted take on Jack Kerouac’s ecstatic American story, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), who’s trailed after his friends Carlo and Dean, watching them cavort in a handsomely lighted gutter and atmospheric slum pads, delivers what should be a cri de coeur. “The only people that interest me,” Sal says in voiceover, with Mr. Riley scatting out the famous words, “are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing…but burn, burn, burn like Roman candles across the night.” Yet these boys scarcely simmer.
“On the Road,” one of the most anticipated competition selections at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, had its press premiere Wednesday morning and was received with well-behaved applause, a low-pulse response for a low-pulse endeavor. Written by Jose Rivera, the script has been extracted from both the 1957 novel and the 1951 scroll version, so named because Kerouac pounded it out on 120 taped-together sheets of tracing paper. That version, published in 2007 as “On the Road: The Original,” uses real names like Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, which were changed for the novel to avoid libel charges. Some of the voiceover is taken right from the scroll: in the novel, for instance, Kerouac added “mad to be saved” to the qualities he ticked off in that brightly burning sentence.
More literary adaptation than biopic, the movie uses the fiction alter egos Kerouac created for the novel. Bookended by two goodbyes, the story spans 1947 to 1951, the year after Kerouac’s first published novel, “The Town and the City,” came out. “I first met Neal not long after my father died,” Sal says, delivering the scroll’s opening words, “I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk.” Sal meets Dean, a k a Cassady (Garrett Hedlund), through Carlo Marx, a k a Ginsberg, who’s played with energy and heavy glasses, by the pretty, deeply un-Ginsbergian British actor Tom Sturridge. Dean, as is his habit, throws open the door to Sal and Carlo while completely naked, his teenaged honeypot, Marylou (Kristen Stewart, fine and untwitchy), still warming the rumpled bed.
From there it’s on the road and off as the beatific boys, with Marylou sometimes riding shotgun, discover America and themselves or try to anyway as the jazz wails and throbs amid insert shots of books by Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. Everything looks authentic or at least painstakingly researched, from the jazz clubs where Sal and Dean sweat and grind alongside the African-American clientele to the stores that hug the sides of the highways. The cinematographer Eric Gautier has done brilliant work elsewhere and doesn’t seem capable of taking a bad shot. But everything tends to look too pretty here — the scenery, sets and costumes included, especially for the rougher byways and more perilous interludes, like the Benzedrine nights that feel more opiated than hopped up.
Viggo Mortensen makes things jump with his sepulchral growl as Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs), and Elisabeth Moss and Amy Adams pump juice into sidelined wives. But Mr. Salles, an intelligent director whose films include “The Motorcycle Diaries,” doesn’t invest “On the Road” with the wildness it needs for its visual style, narrative approach and leads. This lack of wildness – the absence of danger, uncertainty or a deep feeling for the mad ones – especially hurts Dean, who despite the appealing Mr. Hedlund, never jumps off the screen to show you how Cassady fired up Kerouac and the rest. Dean hauls around a tattered copy of “Swann’s Way,” but, unlike Sal, he can’t turn the reading, driving and fornicating – his life on the road – into transcendence and neither can this film.
•• Indiewire, James Rocchi: Rating B
Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" has been heralded for decades: an important novel, a cultural signifier, a sociological landmark, a cracking good read. It's also been considered "unfilmable" -- but now Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries," "Dark Water") brings the novel to the screen, and "The Motorcycle Diaries" turns out to be a pretty good template for understanding how Salles has shot his adaptation. "On the Road," like 'Diaries,' is scenic and episodic, full of youth's passion but with a shade of the future yet to come dimming the brightness of its vision, as a charismatic young man travels with another young man, saying little but watching everything along the way.
If there's one thing that wounds "On the Road," it's that the film is full of things -- having sex, doing drugs, being free -- that are far more enjoyably experienced by one's self as opposed to watching other people enjoy them on screen; even when the free-living, debauched events on screen are at their highest --or lowest, like when the group smashes medical inhalers to make Benzedrine tea, or when a heroin addict nods off with his child in his comatose arms -- you still feel pressed against the glass on the other side of the shop window from the goodies.
Sam Riley is Sal Paradise, Kerouac's stand-in for himself in the novel; Garret Hedlund is Dean Moriarty, based on Neal Cassady, the freewheeling and irresponsible sensation-seeker who pulls Sal into his wake. Riley has to carry the burden of being the viewpoint character, a position that always seems more passive on film than it does in print; people expecting the charismatic fireworks of his work in "Control" will be disappointed. But as Hedlund's previous work -- except for the wretched "Tron: Legacy" -- has demonstrated, he's a young actor with charisma and skill, making Dean both engaging and reprehensible.
Kristen Stewart is Dean's paramour Marylou, and seeing her liberated from the silly straitjacket of servile moping she has to perform in the "Twilight" films is a huge relief. (A friend joked that Stewart's character's bed-hopping, nudity and overall sexual licentiousness were just the universe compensating her for all the chaste charmlessness she has to embody as Bella in the "Twilight" films.) And Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams play the book's stand-ins for William S. Burroughs and Jane Vollmer with drugged-up grit and gravel, a cautionary tale about to happen. (A spacey-eyed Adams gets the film's best non-sequitur when the pilgrims drop in for a visit, brandishing a broom and heading for the yard: "Excuse me: lizards").
And so we watch our hobohemians drive and steal and dance and screw looking for "IT," their highest point of alive-ness and cool, all of it beautifully shot. And yet you can't help but wish that Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera had focused less on the stories in the book and more on the story of the book -- its writing, its reception, the publisher making Kerouac change the names of the real parties concerned and his edits, the 6-year gap between its being written and its being published. Cinematographer Eric Gautier ("Into the Wild," "A Christmas Tale") does incredible work, but after a while the film feels like any other roadtrip -- no matter how beautiful the scenery flickering by through the window, eventually you just want to get out of the goddamn car. Salles may have pulled off the achievement of faithfully adapting Kerouac's novel, but as episodes blur and bleed between each other with scenery as punctuation, you might find yourself wishing for a little less literary fidelity and a little more cinematic storytelling.
•• Scene Creek, Amanda Chen: Rating 3,5/5
Are you going some place or just going? I want an escape. I want to just get away and be anywhere but here. But more importantly, I want to belong somewhere. With so much accessibility for the generation’s group of delinquents, it’s refreshing to take a step back and look at how the Beat generation found meaning to life at a time of dark despair. If you have a thirst for adventure and a loose line of morality, you will enjoy all that Walter Salles has to offer in his cinematic interpretation of Jack Kerouac’s novel, On The Road.
Everyone’s a writer. Everyone’s a hipster. Any movie with lots of traveling, drinking, smoking and orgies is my kind of movie. I literally fell in love when Garret Hedlund opened the door butt-naked with Kristen Stewart lying naked in the background. I’m sorry, Twilight completely undervalues Kristen Stewart’s acting capabilities. I don’t know why they had cast her as a virginous vampire lover. She definitely plays a better cracked out lover than anything Kirsten Dunst can do. I mean, it takes a completely different woman to sit naked between two dudes and jack them off simultaneously in a car. Dunst and her little ‘respectable woman’ act doesn’t cut it. Same goes for Elizabeth Moss, who plays a random wife that got dropped off for talking too much.
Clearly, we’re living in a man’s world. The women have no impact at all to the activities the boys indulge themselves in. In fact, there’s more homo-eroticism in this film than there is of Kristen Stewart’s nudity (which is like, a lot). Sam Riley isn’t nearly as messed up as his idol Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund), but that’s not what this is about. It’s about how one extreme person can influence you so much with his own madness and inevitable self-destruction that leads you to a breath-through in personal maturity.
Like President Truman says, “We have to cut down at the cost of living.” Whether you like it or not, creative talent results from a degree of suffering that puts one on the brink of insanity. Sal Paradise’s struggle with writing his book provokes the weak stomachs out there and reveals one of the most realistic dramatizations of the creative process to date.
•• London Evening Standard, Derek Malcolm: Rating 3/4
Presented at Cannes in competition, it will have its supporters for the Palme d’Or, while others may feel that the mad passion of Kerouac’s characters is precisely what it lacks.
The cast is promising. British actor Sam Riley, so good as Ian Curtis in Control, plays Sal Paradise, said to be more than an approximation of Kerouac. He plays him as a slightly withdrawn young man fascinated by the more adventurous Dean Moriarty (in essence, the Beat poet Neal Cassady, played by Garrett Hedlund) as they embark on their journey towards what they hope will be some sort of freedom. They are accompanied by Marylou (Kristen Stewart) who married Cassady at 15, divorced him, but remained his mistress for years.
The trio, constantly in danger of speeding tickets, sing, do a certain amount of sexual experimentation and drink too much as the countryside rolls by. Sal, getting into bed with Dean and Marylou, can’t quite manage a threesome and asks Dean to leave. It all seems almost conventional these days.
Salles gets excellent performances from his cast, which includes Viggo Mortensen as the William Burroughs figure and Kirsten Dunst as the girl Cassady married after finally breaking up with Marylou. However, he struggles to give his story the strong dramatic line it requires and concentrates instead on sequences which illustrate the book best.
What we do get, thanks to Riley’s perceptive performance, is the sense that he is watching Cassady tasting life before he gingerly partakes. But he does watch with some surprise as the very hetero Cassady allows himself to be seduced by Steve Buscemi’s homosexual for a pocketful of money.
In many ways a pleasing film, the drama seems muted and what made the Beats seem extraordinary figures is only partially suggested. An emblematic book has inspired a road movie that seems a good deal less memorable than Easy Rider.
•• The Independent, Kaleem Aftab: Rating 2/5
Walter Salles takes an orthodox approach to Jack Kerouac's classic text. As with his adaptation of Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries, Salles seems as preoccupied with the mundane as he is with the tales of threesomes, drugs and broken friendships.
Indeed, in the scenes introducing our myriad characters, the written-with-hindsight line that seems to make the most impact is "most of the time it was boring". Not that the film is boring. It's just very safe. It's classically shot, and thankfully doesn't overuse images of the open road and landscapes. The loose episodic narrative is tied together by voiceover, diary-type scribbles on a notepad and Sal bent over his typewriter. It's a lyrical and literal adaptation and cannot be faulted for its faithfulness to the novel.
The voiceover and written exposition is needed because Sam Riley plays Sal (the Jack Kerouac character) as an observer. Events happen around him, he is bookish, a quite hard working geek. This fits well as it's now commonly accepted that Kerouac didn't really write On The Road in three weeks, so Salles' emphasis on his diligence and work on his writing style is spot-on.
The trouble is that Riley doesn't manage to reveal with visual expression alone what is going on behind his eyes and I found his Kerouac too bland to empathise with. As an actor his progress since his stunning turn as Manchester singer Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn's Control (2007) has been disappointing.
He's not helped by the fact that the Brazilian director doesn't make enough of these beats changing American youth culture forever, the group who helped rebellion and unorthodoxy bleed into the mainstream. Only in one scene when they are stopped for speeding do we get any sense of a generation gap.
We see American but learn nothing about the country. Garrett Hedlund steals the show as womanising best friend Dean Moriarty, the alias for Neal Cassady. He's helped by the fact that his character has a proper ark, the lover who gets Camille/Carolyn Cassady pregnant and goes from being the social butterfly to the loner. Kirsten Dunst as Camille is underused.
The most surprising turn is Kristen Stewart's as Marylou/LuAnne Henderson. The camera absolutely loves her, despite her awkward gait. She thrives as the promiscuous fun-loving girl, who literally gets in between Sal and Dean. The scenes with her are electric.
Salles never overcomes the problem that so influential has the book been that the depictions which once seemed radical are now cliché.
•• Oyster Magazine, Alice Cavanagh: Taking a cult literary classic like Jack Kerouac's On the Road and bringing it to life in film is a trepidatious task, but one that producer Roman Coppola has always wanted to take on — his father Francis Ford bought the film rights to the story over 30 years ago — though it was not until Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) put his hand up that they felt they had found the right man for the job. "The script that he cooked up was so evidently the right way to go ... It was such a natural fit," Roman said earlier today at the press conference in Cannes.
The film stars British actor Sam Riley as the protagonist Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac), and Garrett Hudland as Dean Moriarty, one of the most interesting literary characters of all time. Dean is based on the beat generation's muse Neal Cassady, who was good looking, clever and wild (always a winning combination). Back in the day, Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg basically followed Cassady around the country bro-ing out and hanging off his every word, as did numerous beautiful young women. He ended up ping-ponging for most of the time, though, between two main ladies: Marylou (played by Kristen Stewart) and Camille (Kirsten Dunst).
Kristen Stewart's performance is one of the highlights of the film. The shy Twilight teen is long gone and in her place is a semi-naked, joint-rolling, whisky-swigging wild child. Kristen evidently enjoyed the experience, saying today that it was a chance to really let go whilst in character. "I love pushing... I love scaring myself and I think to watch genuine experience on screen is just so much more interesting. I wanted to do it ... [and] in this case I didn't have a thought in my mind. As long as you are just being really honest there is nothing ever to be ashamed of..." I'm not sure if this means she actually got stoned and had real sex with Garrett but whatever she did, it worked.
Kirsten Dunst on the other hand was a little stiff (in the film and at the press conference, actually). Her character Camille was based on Cassady's wife Carolyn with whom he bore children and allowed his best-bud Kerouac to have relations with for years. We interviewed Caroline (who is now 88 years old) for Oyster #96 and she is far more interesting than the film (and, to be fair, the book) makes her out to be.
The film is beautifully shot and the performances are great — pretty boy Garrett really surprises — but overall it felt pretentious. There were too many stylised shots (drinking, smoking and frenzied dance-offs) and props (old books) and too much philosophising. It was even a little boring in parts: I checked my phone at least ten times throughout the film, which is really not a good sign. Although it remains true to the book, it could be that the book simply doesn't work on the screen: Kerouac's lines are reduced to clichéd theatrical moments instead of the ingenious ramblings of an alcoholic whose work continues to inspire many half a century after his work was first published.
•• Cine Vue, John Bleasdale: Rating 2/5
It's been a long journey from the original publication of Jack Kerouac's beat novel On the Road in 1957 to this Walter Salles-directed big screen adaptation. Over half a century has passed, and in the meantime the cultural influence of the 'Beat Generation' has inspired music and film on many different levels. Salles' On the Road attempts to condense and capture one of the great unfilmable books, but instead motors onto the Cannes Croisette with its trunk packed full with baggage.
On the Road recounts the friendship and travels of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), one of a series of pseudonyms Kerouac lumbered his real life characters with, and his companion Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). They meet soon after Sal's father dies, and it is Dean's free-spirited lifestyle that puts Sal onto the road as a way of life. Sal and his buddies are free-wheeling hedonists, high on life, marijuana, booze, Benzedrine, jazz and sex. And yet despite their intellectual commitment to freedom, none of the characters are a hundred percent certain of what they are doing. Jealousies and hang-ups, guilty and regret impinge and threaten to bring the madcap joyride to a halt.
Many of these jealousies centre on the sexual antics of Dean, introduced to us completely naked as he answers the door to Sal and Carlo Marx (a pseudonym that angered Allen Ginsberg, here played by Tom Sturridge). Kristen Stewart plays Marylou, Dean's sweetheart, but there is also the more mature Camille (Kirsten Dunst) to contend with, who waits for him on the opposite coast. Sal and Dean's journeys take them on a meandering exploration of American geography, returning occasionally to New York only to set off once more to visit Bull Lee (Viggo Mortenson), San Francisco and finally Mexico.
Although not the car crash that some may have expected, Salles' On the Road is far too respectful to its source material. The chunks of text that are recounted in voiceover form, the sight of Sal constantly scribbling down notes and the final, almost holy reproduction of the book's actual typing onto scroll all make this most cinematic of books seem as dusty as a Henry James adaptation. It feels harsh to criticise a film which has obviously been lovingly and devotedly produced. Indeed, the landscapes are beautiful, the period detail meticulous, and both Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera inject a humour throughout.
Stewart seems to relish throwing off the 'Will she or won't she' puritanism of the Twilight franchise with an unambiguous 'Yes, she will'. Yet everyone here seems too movie-star-beautiful, the one moment we're supposed to feel discomfort being when Steve Buscemi enters the fray. This scene speaks also to the book's homophobia, which the film frantically attempts to offset. Salles is guilty of other cliches as well: funerals take place in the rain, the straight world is full of actors who come with the term 'pinched expressions' on their CV, and the Beat ideal of fun has always been difficult to seriously convey - the jazz is fine, but some of the bacchanalia looks more like a long beer commercial than a genuine expression of freedom.
On the Road has already been made a thousand times before: in Easy Rider (1969), One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), every Tom Waits album and even Salles' very own The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). Salles interpretation is good looking but stilted, full of movement but oddly paralysed, an all-too respectable portrait of what should be wild rebellion.
•• Smell like screen spirit, Anna Bielak: Rating 7/10
Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) — protagonists of Jack Kerouac’s acclaimed novel — hit the road. They travel across America from the east to west coast, back and forth. They live now and here, protest against the system, kindle their emotions and indulge in a hypnotic, sensual and narcotic journey. Before my first trip to Paris, everyone told me over and over again that I would be disappointed; that the city has nothing in common with the portraits by the painters from Montparnasse, nor is it as poetic as in the bizarre novels written by Henry Miller. Maybe it was true; however, my vision of Paris was so enormously strong that when I eventually got there, I saw the city through the prism of my imagination. I was probably feeding myself with illusions; yet I left the city contented. I got what I wanted. Today, I am pretty sure that my thoughts on the first adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (a book I love and appreciate so much!) are as twisted as they were during my first trip to Paris. But you know what? I don’t care.
Objectively speaking – Walter Salles has not directed a good movie. Lots of journalists, after the first On the Road screening at Cannes, reproached Salles for not preparing a plot that is interesting enough for the viewers. The lack of dynamic action was essential while passing a vote for censure. However, the film is too long and its style a bit too ponderous because Salles adapts the whole novel on screen, not the fragments that I appreciated in the first place. Moreover, while speaking of Kerouac’s style, one must not use the terms of classic narration. Having that in mind, it is obvious how inappropriate it is to criticize Salles’ narrative because it lacks a clear, obvious structure. Built upon the basis of stream of consciousness, the film can be no more than a chaotic picture, deeply rooted in memories and a bit detached from [cinematic] reality.
Salles’ On the Road is like a recorded experience. It is an account given of a mythical voyage on the roads of the United States. Salles transfers the sensual style of Kerouac’s prose into frames of his film. In the editing, he leaves a few reprises — the same streets, buildings, and parties. America is drifting into sunshine… There is a ginger dust above the streets; fields of cotton do not sink out of sight; pubs are gloomy and smoke-filled; hair is disheveled and bodies are sticky of sweat… There is a great precision in every single detail brought onto the road. The leading actors attract attention; they are the essence of this place. They fill it with peculiar characters; they move in leisurely ways; they are too showy or not talkative enough. Sam Riley as Sal Paradise role and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty bring a fresh blow of uncontrolled reality into this mythical beat world. Salles’ film is grueling and might be boring for some; yet, his On the Road is a tribute to Jack Kerouac’s passion, style and life. It would be unbearable not to watch it…
•• Quickflix, Simon Miraudo: Rating 2/5
I had endeavoured to finally read Jack Kerouac’s legendary, Beat Generation-defining novel On the Road before watching the long-awaited film adaptation. Any misgivings I had about its notoriously rambling prose was immediately dispelled after the first few pages; it was surprisingly fluid and still fresh more than 60 years after its publication. Though I was unable to complete the book before sitting down to Walter Salles‘ take on the tome, I felt I had a handle on Kerouac’s style, without spoiling for myself the late revelations of the plot. Having now endured all 137 minutes, it’s going to be a difficult task willing myself to return to the text. I’m sure the rest of it is excellent, but how can one bring themselves to go back on a trip that wound out so tediously on celluloid?
Salles’ languid road movie in no way recreates the electricity of Kerouac’s writing or the era it sought to define. Howl suffered a similar fate; despite concerning Allen Ginsberg’s culturally explosive poem, the picture was positively lethargic. Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund star as Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty respectively (stand-ins for Kerouac and Beat muse Neal Cassady); poets who hitch, drive, drink, and screw their way around the United States. Sal is looking for inspiration to help him write a new kind of novel, while Dean is just going back and forth between his teenage ex-wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and embittered baby-mama Camille (Kirsten Dunst), having a hell of a time along the way.
Well, at least they’re having a good time. Hedlund throws himself head first into the role, but the poor boy’s enthusiasm can’t breathe life into a movie with the liveliness of a corpse. Stewart is remarkably adept at playing an overly sexualised young woman desperate for release (wonder where she honed that talent…). As for Riley, he’s saddled with the pic’s least interesting character and the unenviable task of having to regularly sit at a typewriter and make it look super exciting; he does however have the advantage of reciting that beautiful narration. Unfortunately, he just can’t quite convince as Paradise.
Eventually, On the Road becomes less like a freewheeling journey across America than it does a tour of the country’s best character actors. Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Steve Buscemi, and Elisabeth Moss are all excellent in their small roles, but none register for more than a couple minutes on screen. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with bringing in talented ringers to round out a cast, but the picture could have benefited greatly from featuring them more prominently. Or, perhaps it could have been 10 minutes long in total, and simply made up of their memorable moments. As it stands, the film is currently the length of infinity.
Some great works are not just a great story; they are intrinsically tied to their form. Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes is a brilliant reinterpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale, but it’s also an invigorating and visually marvellous movie. Samuel Beckett’s plays are meant to confront viewers, and are benefited by the immediate presence of an audience shifting awkwardly and audibly in their seats. On the Road is a book, and not only is it a book, it’s a book about the writing of a very different kind of book. As a feature, it’s a rambling, tedious, seemingly unending mess that can’t be salvaged by three decent but mostly underwhelming performances. Salles and his DOP Eric Gautier made it look nice, but they and screenwriter Jose Rivera never had a chance. Maybe some Benzedrine would make the whole experience seem worthwhile.
•• Toro Magazine, Thom Ernst: Rating 2,5/5
Director Walter Salles takes a shot at bringing Jack Kerouac’s culture-defining novel On the Road to the screen and succeeds with a faithful, even alarmingly accurate depiction of the beat generation. But what worked so well in the prose Kerouac creates around Sal, his central and autobiographical stand-in, becomes in the film a tiresome loop of smoke, drink, sex, drive, repeat.
On the Road has plenty to offer: great looking people freely embracing decadence and youthful carelessness, beautiful footage of America’s highways and side roads from New York to California, a soundtrack pumping out the best of jazz and blues, and the kind of inspired dialogue that could lead a poet to sing. But at just over two hours, this road trip ultimately becomes one without a destination. Of course, seeking a destination and not arriving at one could well be the point, in which case the film succeeds.
On the Road is perceptive and worth seeing, but chances are you could get up and leave at any point, return at another, and not have missed a beat.
•• The Age, Craig Mathieson: Rating 6/10
While lighter on the gas, On the Road still has the free-wheeling energy of the novel.
Published in 1957, Jack Kerouac's On the Road is a novel that incites fervour and fidelity in generation after generation, each responding in turn to its sense of wanderlust and ecstatic energy.
The autobiographical book is a work of commas, piling up imagery and ideas with every page, but the scenes in Walter Salles's faithful, if truncated, screen adaptation come with full stops; they're intriguing and finely wrought, but self-contained.
Both works invoke ''the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time'', but the movie can't maintain that belief, despite a pair of compelling performances by Garrett Hedlund as charismatic nomad Dean Moriarty and Kristen Stewart as his uninhibited sometimes-girlfriend Marylou.
When the two are onscreen, the film's narrator, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), understandably looks at them with envy and longing, his own interior life anaemic by comparison.
Salles is no stranger to period journeys, having followed a young Che Guevara through 1950s South America for 2004's The Motorcycle Diaries, and here he creates the post-World War II US of the late 1940s with meticulous detail.
Period features abound as the characters sally forth across America's lengths, but the authentic cars and panoramic landscapes that director of photography Eric Gautier capture start to resemble a studious historical document.
Individual scenes have a joyous charge but the movie is somewhat reserved. It's taking notes, just as Sal, an aspiring writer, does. With their road trips and Benzedrine-driven nights, the characters are trying - as one of Kerouac's successors, Jim Morrison of the Doors, put it - to ''break on through to the other side''. But here those efforts, failed or successful, don't provide sustenance.
Whether intentional or not, Salles uses the first Beat generation of hipsters to castigate the current one. The young always want the same thing - to be different - but at a certain point, being carefree resembles selfishness.
The film not only draws on various drafts written by Kerouac, it also proceeds with the knowledge that the inspiration for Sal and Dean - Kerouac and Neal Cassady, respectively - died comparatively young and conspicuously damaged.
One of the positives in playwright Jose Rivera's screenplay is the attention it pays to the women in Dean's life. He alternates between the working-class Marylou and the more straitlaced Camille (Kirsten Dunst), who he marries and has a child with. The price of Dean's sudden flights and avoidance of responsibility is painfully etched on Dunst's despairing face when abandoned. Her performance is brief but persuasive.
Stewart, having played the virginal Bella Swan in far too many Twilight movies, here operates with a casual carnality that gets at deeper truths. Marylou is both freer and more wised-up than the young men around her, and it takes Sal too long to realise he should look to her and not Dean for the answers he desires. Kerouac wrote the character off, but Stewart and Salles redeem her, right down to Marylou's unadorned friskiness, which is matter-of-fact, as opposed to salacious.
In playing these roles, Stewart and Hedlund, last seen in Tron: Legacy, use independent cinema to prove what their blockbusters sometimes haven't: they're movie stars. Hedlund imposes a free-wheeling charm on Dean that barely dissipates, even when he's bedding a fellow traveller (Steve Buscemi) to rustle up cash. Dean's carousing is communal, his affectations celebratory.
But the only time the movie effectively challenges his charisma is when a drive south ends at the home of Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen), a stand-in for another Beat icon, William S. Burroughs, and his off-kilter wife, Joan (Amy Adams). Sagacious, but in his own orbit, Lee offers potential insights that diversions such as Sal's picturesque season with itinerant Mexican labourers never do.
In 1991, when David Cronenberg adapted Burroughs's 1959 novel The Naked Lunch, he turned the text inside out to create a kind of hallucinogenic autobiography. That excess may be what On the Road needs to truly prosper 55 years after it was first published.
Nonetheless, while the film is lacking in connective tissue, Stewart and Hedlund go a long way to transcending the flaws. When they dance at one point, dusted with sweat and pleasure, On the Road truly moves. They're completely on the Beat.
•• MovieFix, Adam Bub: Rating 3,5/5
From the sparse rural landscapes of the Midwest to the grungy city limits of New York and San Francisco, Walter Salles' vibrant adaptation of Jack Kerouac's classic 1940s-set novel On The Road brings the great American road trip to vivid life on screen.
On a less superficial level, this post-war drama captures the spirit of a brewing counter-culture of sex, drugs and jazz, and touches on questions about the meaning of life, manhood and morality.
Wannabe writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) doesn't feel like he's going anywhere – until he meets hedonistic wanderer Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). Sex, drugs, dancing, jazz – Dean is a slave to instant gratification, and brings Sal out of his shell.
Sal, Dean, and Dean's 16-year-old frequently topless wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart) embark upon an aimless trip across America in search of kicks. Along the way, they encounter a number of bizarre characters like Viggo Mortensen's drugged-up guru-like figure Old Bull Lee, and a hilariously frumpy Amy Adams as his lizard-baiting wife Joan, down in New Orleans.
Some audiences will feel clearly alienated by the freewheeling, often plotless adventures of these thrill-seeking nomads. However, there is so much going on in this 124-minute-long descent into debauchery that you're likely to take something away from either the rich characters or the grand, beautifully captured backdrop of an intoxicating yet unforgiving America.
Walter Salles, who directed The Motorcycle Diaries, teeters between the open world of a travelogue and the introverted struggles of characters in stunted growth. He spends too much time on Sal and his writer's block, and not enough time unravelling Dean's spiritual allure.
But, the cast pull off the difficult-to-adapt material with verve. The biggest name, of course, is Kristen Stewart. On The Road marks another accomplished, nuanced performance from an actress too often pigeonholed as "that sulky Twilight girl". Marylou is slowly fleshed out, revealing a complex young woman who "gets it" more than the lost souls around her.
Garrett Hedlund, formerly seen in TRON: Legacy, is genuinely charismatic as Dean, but Sam Riley is bland and stunted as Sal (his scratchy voice-overs don't help).
Other bit-players include Kirsten Dunst, Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss and Boardwalk Empire's Steve Buscemi.
For the most part, On The Road is on the right track. All it needs is slightly more direction.
•• FilmInk, Cara Nash: It inevitably feels a little episodic translated to screen, but it’s evocative, soulful and captures the lust for life that underpins Kerouac’s classic novel.
In adapting Jack Kerouac’s landmark piece of literature – the long-dubbed “unfilmable” tome – the challenge has always been how to capture the author’s rambling, impulsive but brilliant rush of prose. And while it seems clearer now than ever that nothing can match Kerouac’s voice, director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) does a damn fine job, evocatively but respectfully telling the story of young writer, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), who hits the road in fifties America in search of experience, adventure, and the alternative lifestyle advocated by his friend and idol, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund).
As well as Kerouac’s prose, another challenge is the story’s lack of dramatic structure, with the narrative – which contains several road journeys – inevitably feeling episodic when translated to screen. But On The Road is a film that exists more in its moments. And there are some spine-tingling good ones: a wild New Year’s Eve party where Dean and Marylou (Kristen Stewart), dance in a jazzed-up frenzy is thrillingly recreated; a detour to visit Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) is weirdly intriguing; and a scene in which Marylou gets sexy with both Sal and Dean as they barrel down the highway literally exudes youth and freedom. And while these moments are beautifully shot, it’s the spot-on casting that forms the crux of this film. Especially memorable is Hedlund, who captures Dean’s restless charisma and moments of sad self-awareness, while Stewart is all raw sensuality and melancholy as Marylou.
This adaptation may not “burn, burn, burn” with quite the same intensity as the novel, but it kicks and thrusts with a joy and yearning of its own. And Salles also deftly reveals the limitations of the dream, with Sal and Dean’s final confrontation proving a quiet heartbreaker.
•• Cinema Autopsy, Thomas Caldwell: Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness style of writing is an energetic mix of impressions and observations, made visual in the film adaptation of his classic novel On the Road where Kerouac’s alter ego Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) experiences adventure, drugs, sex, jazz and an intense friendship while travelling around America during a time of great cultural shifts and tensions. As with the novel the film is told from Paradise’s interior view of the world where his nonconformity was part revolutionary and part youthful self-indulgence. The film doesn’t depict the broader social and political issues of the era as Paradise was more focused on cultivating experiences and discovering America via a series of road trips with his best friend and muse Dean Moriarty (played by Garrett Hedlund and based on Kerouac’s fellow Beat Generation member Neal Cassady).
On the Road has long been declared ‘unfilmable’, which is only worth mentioning to illustrate how narrowly some people regard cinema. A film adaptation of On the Road that conforms to a classical Hollywood cause-and-effect narrative structure probably would never work, but fortunately not all films are made adhering to the Hollywood tradition. While the term ‘art house’ is mainly used today as a catchall marketing label for a wide range of films, it once meant films that genuinely aspired to something different to the dominant product coming out of the American studio system. For example, the various waves of European art-house cinema movements that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s deliberately went against Hollywood conventions to focus on things like character subjectivity and challenging established film style to express ideology, inspire active thought rather than passive viewing, and create impressions of places, people and ideas. In America there were various avant-garde and counter-culture movements doing similar experiments with narrative cinema. American filmmaker John Cassavetes’s early improvised and cinéma vérité style of cinema in the mid 1950s coincided with the publication of On the Road in 1957. These are the cinema movements that make On the Road extremely filmable, resulting in director Walter Salles and writer José Rivera’s absorbing adaptation.
The film style reflects the interior focus of the material and captures the essence of moments rather than facilitating a traditional narrative. Scenes at parties and in music clubs are tightly framed, often shot with a disorientating sweeping camera and frequently contain dialogue drowned out by the music. Such scenes have a seductive mix of energy and immediacy that expresses the Shock of the New as experienced by the Beat Generation’s lust for life and experimentation. As a contrast the scenes of the American natural and urban landscapes are warmly lit and soft focused to convey the romanticised vision of life on the road.
While On the Road is a series of impressionistic moments, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as aimless. The relationship between Paradise and Moriarty is a symbiotic one based on the desire both men have to replace their absent fathers. Paradise begins his travels after the death of his father while Moriarty is continually searching for his, based on scraps of information that he is living derelict on the streets somewhere. If the film ever does feel laborious it is during the final part of the film, which initially seems like one sequence too many. However, this is because for Paradise it is one adventure too many while for Moriarty the desire to pursue an impossible ideal and maintain the dream is too strong. The final stages of the film are some of the most powerful in how they portray the dark side to the young men’s adventures, which includes a level of excess that cannot be maintained and a destructively neglectful treatment of the women in their lives. There is also a scene where they go to hear music and cannot get into a club unless they hire coats, suggesting that the counterculture they once embraced as their own has now been absorbed into the mainstream, removing its potency and purpose.
While Riley and Hedlund are superb as Paradise and Moriarty, a real strength of the film is the performances by the supporting cast, including Viggo Mortensen who channels William S Burroughs through the Old Bull Lee character beautifully, as well as Amy Adams who plays his wife Jane, based on Joan Vollmer. Kristen Stewart is sensational as Marylou (based on Luanne Henderson), the teenage girl Moriarty marries and then travels with. Stewart portrays Marylou as a wild, passionate, liberated and free willed person while also giving her a melancholic edge since she knows her adventures with Moriarty are finite. As Moriarty’s second wife Camille (based on Carolyn Cassady), Kirsten Dunst articulates the anger and disappointment of a woman who realises she is just a part of her husband’s grand adventure and not allowed to have her own. While the female characters are barely given a voice in the novel, the inclusion of extra details from the filmmakers (some of which came from Carolyn Cassady’s autobiography Off the Road) gives the film a welcomed extra dimension.
While other adaptations of seminal Beat works, such as Howl (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010) and Naked Lunch (David Cronenberg, 1991) have incorporated biographical detail with the hallucinogenic imagery and experimental approach from the original texts, On the Road is a much more straightforward adaptation. The film even has the same pleasantly casual tone of the novel where the mind of the reader/viewer is allowed to drift to then come back and pick up on the next sensation on offer. While fidelity to source material is an unreasonable and unrealistic way to evaluate the value of a film adapted from a novel (see ‘The book is never better than the film’), it is remarkable when a film so faithfully captures the spirit of the original text. Salles has done exactly that with the film adaptation of On the Road, resulting in a cinematic treat for lovers of Beat literature and in particular Kerouac’s novel.
•• At the movies with Margaret & David, David Stratton: Rating 3,5/5
Soon after the death of his father in New York in 1947, Sal, SAM RILEY, meets Dean, GARRETT HEDLUND, a charismatic, easy-going, hedonistic young man who loves to party, smoke pot and occasionally steal cars. Adored by his wife, Marylou, KRISTEN STEWART, Dean is both attractive and dangerous, and soon Sal joins him and Marylou on a trip out west where Dean is also involved with Camille, KIRSTEN DUNST. The adventures of these friends and lovers take them right across America.
Sal is the pseudonym for Jack Kerouac whose seminal book, On the Road, was published in 1957. The key work of the Beat Generation, Kerouac wrote about his friend Neal Cassady, calling him Dean Moriarty, as well as Beat icons like William S. Burroughs, who becomes the character of Old Bull Lee, and is played by Viggo Mortensen, and Allen Ginsberg, Carlo Marx in the book, played by Tom Sturridge in the film. For many years the book was considered unfilmable, though it was almost made with Marlon Brando soon after it was published; now Walter Salles, who made THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, another classic road movie, has tackled the formidable material, with, on the whole, a great deal of success.
The casting is fine - Garrett Hedlund is an electrifying Dean/Neal, and both Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst bring depth to their performances of complicated real-life characters. Filmed all over America, as well as in Canada and Mexico, the film is in some ways reminiscent of hippy road movies, like EASY RIDER, that were set some 20 years after the action of this movie.
Lovers of the book may feel Salles doesn't quite get it right, but he does a very solid job.
•• SBS, Fiona Williams: Rating 2,5/5
A Sunday drive through an electric literary landmark.
Jack Kerouac’s iconic account of a life-defining road trip has experienced its fair share of speed bumps in making the leap from page to the screen.
Accounts of its adaptation are the thing of Hollywood lore. In 1957 Kerouac himself famously offered the newly published novel’s rights to Marlon Brando, with a heartfelt pitch that he should play the role of the fiery muse: 'You play Dean and I'll play Sal (Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal) and I'll show you how Dean acts in real life," he entreated, promising to give 'perfectly acceptable movie-type structure" to the freeform novel, and shoot with a dashboard camera documenting the wide-open expanse, set to a soundtrack of their yakking.
Evidently, The Wild One wasn’t wild about the notion, and since then, everyone from Montgomery Clift and Jean Luc Godard has been linked to either star or direct. Francis Ford Coppola has never stopped agitating to make the film, having bought the book outright, and spent nearly 40 years developing the concept with his son Roman (who was at one point also going to direct his own adaptation). The closest any On the Road adaptation has gotten to completion before now, was a 1995 Gus Van Sant version, adapted by Kerouac biographer, Barry Gifford. But that too, never made it very far.
Coppola the younger has admitted that the novel’s celebrated revolt from the traditional three-act-structure basically makes it a bugger to film, or as he put it, 'On the Road is famously absolutely unconventional".
Clearly undeterred by so many false starts, Brazillian Walter Salles has penned his own adaptation (with Gifford as consultant), spawned from a documentary (also shot) about Kerouac’s original cross country odyssey with Neal Cassady, immortalised in print as 'Dean Moriarty’.
Salles tenderly adapts the Beat bible, paying deference to the characters and period details. He faithfully depicts the transformative impact of the trip on the young men – and their women, albeit to a lesser extent – bristling against the conservatism of their parents’ generation. To damn it with faint praise, On the Road is as good an adaptation as you can hope for, for a book that is, by and large, unfilmable.
Salles is either the best or the worst person to adapt On the Road. Certainly, he has past experience with profound, era-defining road trips, but On the Road contains, to my mind, several of the same issues that The Motorcycle Diaries had as a film, but only takes them further: There is beauty in abundance, but little emotional charge. The Motorcycle Diaries got away with it, in being framed as a contemplative mood piece about the foundational aspects of a revolutionary mindset. But the same template can’t be applied to the adaptation of a stream-of-consciousness memoir of passionate, impulsive provocation. On the Road demands a gut reaction from the get-go. Kerouac’s sing-song cadence tells of 'mad ones" who 'burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars".
The straightforward narrative struggles to articulate the giddy thrills of making deep connections, of kindred spirits, and sex, jazz and Benzedrine. It doesn’t help that the combination of Sam Riley as the observant wallflower Sal, and Garret Hedland as the selfish-to-a-fault fun magnet Dean, falls well short of the electrifying sympatico one expects. (Hedlund is much more convincing in the latter stages of the film as the worn-out party boy.) Cameos from Viggo Mortenson, Amy Adams and a solid turn from Kristen Stewart (as the spunky sexpot Marylou) help, but ultimately don’t help to elevate the film from the burden of its own expectations.
•• Games Radar, James Mottram: Rating 3/5
Over 30 years in the making, the film of On The Road has seen off countless casts, directors and writers.
And it’s not hard to see why: Jack Kerouac’s iconic Beat generation text is a plot-less ramble across post-war America that defies adaptation, with a narrative almost as free-form as the jazz tunes that filter from the dive bars its author-hero (and Kerouac alter-ego) Sal Paradise frequents.
So Brazilian director Walter Salles deserves credit simply for trying.
That he and screenwriter José Rivera (who adapted The Motorcycle Diaries for Salles) have managed to do it with such elegance is even more impressive.
Loyal to the spirit of Kerouac’s book, there are times when this intoxicating brew burns across the screen with feverish passion, almost with the same fury that Paradise hammers away at his typewriter.
A story of friendship and freedom, it begins in 1947 when aspiring writer Sal (Sam Riley) meets the irrepressible Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund).
The model for Beat icon Neal Cassady, Dean is the sun who draws many into his orbit – wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart), the Allen Ginsberg-like poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and, later, Camille (Kirsten Dunst), who becomes his second wife (and must put up with his continual philandering with Marylou).
As Dean and Sal criss-cross the continent, taking in Denver, San Francisco, Mexico and more, the texture and period detail are beautiful.
Like any road trip, there are stretches that can feel repetitive (there are only so many times you can watch them take Benzedrine) but there are also landmarks to watch out for – from show-stopping cameos (Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard, Steve Buscemi) to stand-out scenes.
Anchoring it all, Riley invests real feeling as he narrates Kerouac’s words, Stewart and Dunst commit like hell, and Hedlund tears up the screen with a free-wheeling performance that seems to embody Salles’ approach.
Viggo Mortensen’s trigger-happy junkie Old Bull Lee (aka William Burroughs) is another high.
Even if the film has a patchwork quality, Rivera’s script mines some much-needed humour from events – from Stewart giving new meaning to the phrase ‘two-hander’ to the priceless scene where Dean drives Sal’s mother back to New York.
With its meandering narrative, it won’t appeal to all. But this is a heartfelt work worth surrendering to.
•• TimeOut, Trevor Johnston: Rating 4/5
American writer Jack Kerouac’s 1957 book ‘On the Road’, his autobiographical odyssey of cross-country misbehaviour, is such a cultural milestone that it’s long been eyed-up by filmmakers. But the novel’s sketchy story (they drive, take drugs, fool around, drive some more) has always been a stumbling block. And nothing dates so fast as yesterday’s youthquake, so maybe the 55-year wait isn’t such a mystery.
Neither is it surprising that the Brazilian director Walter Salles is finally the one to crack it: he has form, shaping Che Guevara’s youthful writings into ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ (2004). Salles performs a similar trick here by pouring hot young actors into beautifully realised period reconstructions.
What Salles doesn’t do is conjure up a new story. So ‘On the Road’ is still an episodic catalogue of comings and goings. We follow budding writer Sal (Kerouac’s alter ego, played by Sam Riley) in the company of his livewire buddy Dean (Garrett Hedlund, channelling Neal Cassady). The former plays frustrated observer while the latter dallies with women (including Kirsten Dunst and Kristen Stewart). Writerly cameos are also part of the fun – Viggo Mortensen is deliciously cranky as ‘Bill Lee’, doubling for William Burroughs. But the heart of the matter is what’s going on between Sal and seductive yet irresponsible Dean. Does the wordsmith want to shag him? Or be him?
Salles refuses to turn the men’s conflicted relationship into melodrama. Or to shock us. So some viewers might be left desiring a tad more heat and fire. Instead, Salles trusts our instincts to pick up on looks and glances, and the performances deliver on this front. Riley subtly calibrates Sal’s unquiet yearning, and Hedlund is all smiley brio as reckless party monster Dean.
Freewheeling spontaneity is tough to convey on screen, and the drink- and drug-fuelled carousing lacks Danny Boyle-style zing. But the bull-nosed cars, jazz soundtrack and soft light of a bygone era are a joy. If you’ve got a feel for vintage Americana, or the bebop pulse of Kerouac’s prose, you’ll absolutely get this.
•• New Stateman, Ryan Gilbey: The temptation to herald On the Road as the most insightful literary adaptation in recent cinema should not be resisted. José Rivera’s screenplay follows the map of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel about his pan-American wanderings in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But the film is also an interrogation of the book: its director, Walter Salles, pursues a passionate, even disgruntled, argument with Kerouac.
Any gap of understanding felt by modern audiences towards the beat generation is bridged quickly by cinematic shorthand: roaming camera, jittery editing, a jazz-for-beginners soundtrack of thudding double bass and hissing highhats. There is a British bias in the main cast, with Sam Riley, whose face suggests a prince not quite de-frogged, as the watchful Sal (the Kerouac figure), and Tom Sturridge bringing to the excitable, bramble-haired Carlo (Allen Ginsberg by another name) a playful curl of the lip.
The sun around which they orbit is Dean (aka Neal Cassady). As played by the pretty American actor Garrett Hedlund, Dean is charismatic enough to nip in the bud any doubts about how people tolerate his flightiness, but sufficiently mutable to suggest that the adulation of others will never sustain him. Once the beats’ credo of philosophy and pharmaceuticals is established, the film starts noticing those people exasperated or excluded by the party. Sal and Dean may be kings of the road behind their scratched windscreen, but Salles is meticulous in balancing the ledger. There is no liberation in the film without suffering, no beat generation without its beaten-down counterpart (usually female).
Starting with Sal’s mother, who sits in dim light while he packs for his latest adventure, women in the film tend to be consigned to rooms while the excitement happens elsewhere. It’s perfectly excusable for Sal to leave behind an ageing parent when going on a narcotic voyage of discovery, though I’m curious to know whether dope and Benzedrine, the beats’ drugs of choice, would have the same disruptive effect on his mother’s knitting as they did on spiders’ webs in those 1940s experiments.
The first time we meet Dean’s teenage wife, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), he is ordering her into the kitchen. Her social standing doesn’t improve noticeably, though she is allowed in the driving seat, literally if not figuratively. She also gets to express her discontentment with Dean, as does his second wife, Camille (Kirsten Dunst). While Dean and Sal goof around in the next room, the camera initiates its visual allegiance to Camille, whose life has shrunk to the dimensions of her child’s cot. The picture measures, down to the last teardrop, the historical cost to women of the freedom of men.
Built into the film’s DNA is information that has become a matter of record over the years. Where the novel left Dean and Carlo staring into one another’s eyes, the film shows their relationship to be a meeting of bodies as well as minds. The book’s homophobic asides, explicable from this distance as a case of the beatnik protesting too much, are replaced by analysis; an older man derided in the novel as a “fag” is now a temporary proxy for Dean’s lost father. In common with an earlier draft of the novel, the film starts with the death of Sal’s own father, rather than the break-up of his marriage. That amendment establishes the movie as a Lost Boys’ own story.
This is not so much reading between the lines as pulling up Kerouac’s sentences like floorboards and shining a torch into the darkness beneath. Occasionally this takes a comic form, with jokes expressed in abrupt editing for which there is no literary equivalent – jumping from a wide shot of Dean’s speeding car to a close-up of him pushing the vehicle. That style of cutting, or undercutting, can provide depth. After boasting of his participation in an orgy, Dean slumps into a chair and the film cuts to an image that might be an X-ray of his soul: a field steeped in snow and silence.
If this makes Salles sound like a party-pooper, he still allows the characters lightness. Dean’s exuberance is a source of fun as well as frustration and the film scores some laughs off his redictable priapism. When he stirs from a nap on the back seat to tell Sal and Marylou that he has a great idea for livening up the journey, chances are it won’t be a game of I spy, unless it’s naked I spy. There is also a palate-cleansing interlude at the Louisiana home of Old Bull Lee, aka William Burroughs (Viggo Mortensen), and his wife Jane (Amy Adams). Old Bull is in a morphine daze, a tie looped around his trackmarked forearm and an infant snoozing on his lap, while Jane sweeps lizards out of the trees. Even this unorthodox clan embodies a model of domestic harmony unattainable by Dean.
The cinematographer Éric Gautier achieves an impressive visual breadth, from sun-frazzled Pueblos to New York alleys where lit cigarettes hang like fireflies in the blue morning. You’d expect the director of The Motorcycle Diaries to make On the Road gratifying to the eye. But the key to the film’s brilliance lies in Salles’s insistence on telling the story of the beats through the off-beats. He coaxes out harmonies previously inaudible to the human ear.
•• The Telegraph, Tim Robey: Rating 4/5
This is an alluring and honest treatment of Jack Kerouac's beat novel On the Road.
Rambling, episodic, aimless, vague. You can throw all of these words at Walter Salles’s On the Road – many did when it premiered at Cannes, in a longer version than the cut now released. They might sound like criticisms, but they are the point. The movie can’t help but ramble if it wants to honour the whole ethos of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 Beatnik travelogue, but it isn’t shy about weighing up his achievement, either. It’s partly a gorgeous and textured film of his book, partly a hidden biopic about why he wrote it.
The first line isn’t what Sal (Sam Riley) says on the page – “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up” – but what Kerouac wrote in an earlier draft: “I first met Dean not long after my father died.” It’s a significant change, and key to what Salles and his Motorcycle Diaries screenwriter José Rivera are trying to do. We’re watching scenes from a book that hasn’t been written yet.
The ending, with Sal sitting at his typewriter to recap everything about his life with Dean (Garrett Hedlund) – the carousing, the night drives, the periods apart – is perfect, and capable of unleashing a flood of emotion towards these characters that we barely think possible along the way. Some films only coalesce right at the end, and the closing moments here are so spellbindingly sad that I was instantly keen to see it again.
The supporting cast is tremendous: Kristen Stewart’s restless child-bride, Viggo Mortensen’s Burroughs surrogate and Kirsten Dunst’s trapped Camille all make vivid impressions, as does Tom Sturridge’s funny, lonely Carlo (the Ginsberg figure).
Out in front, Hedlund is a gritty revelation, desperate and magnetic. Dean’s constant need for sex is understood as a sign of damage, part of the same compulsion that sends him all over America, bouncing between wives.
If Riley is less commanding, his relative blandness makes strange sense, because Sal’s always in thrall to his buddy – only half a person, unformed until he decides to write.
Working with the wonderful French cinematographer Eric Gautier (Into the Wild), Salles summons a twilit America where wanderlust is an ache, an addiction, and a kind of madness. It’s a tempting vortex to disappear into, for these rootless young people bored by the conventional options of living. The Kerouac mythology can be a chore if you don’t get it, of course, and I’ve often thought myself more or less immune. This alluring and honest treatment proved me wrong.
•• Fan the fire, Andrew Simpson: Rating 2/5
Arriving after more than fifty years, On The Road finally makes it to the screen, but cruises when it should race. A passion project of producer Francis Ford Coppola since 1980, Kerouac’s beat touchstone is alluringly cinematic source material on the surface, offering as it does a colourful cross-section of 1950s America, from Mexico to San Francisco to New York; as well as a carousel of drugs, jazz and wild sex. But one author’s thrilling ode to the search for experience proves to be another’s wearingly self-conscious period piece, as director Walter Salles delivers an overlong, overly polite rendition of one of literature’s most famous works of rebellion.
Chronicling the artistic growth of aspiring writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), On The Road fuses its source’s plot with Kerouac’s struggle to write his iconic novel. Interspersing Paradise/Kerouac’s adventures with his frantic scribbling, and bookended by his sitting down to write On The Road on the now famous scroll, it’s an approach that both recreates and crystallises the book, retelling the story of Kerouac’s opus more as historical event than revelatory experience.
The result is an exercise of staying on the straight and narrow, with the occasional moment hinting at the better film lingering within the material. Riley, enigmatic and closed, is closer to his Ian Curtis in Control than a man more keenly absorbing experience, and Garrett Hedlund – last seen sucking the life out of Tron: Legacy – whilst better, can’t quite capture the impulsiveness and charisma required of Neal Cassady cipher Dean Moriarty. Far better are Kristen Stewart, soulful and convincing as Moriarty squeeze Marylou; and Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, a take on William Burroughs that suggests an understanding of the material lacking in his co-stars.
Unhinged performances from supporting players – also including an all too brief cameo from Steve Buscemi – only serve to underline the wan respectability otherwise on show here. Salles, shorn of the political dimension that gave coherence to The Motorcycle Diaries (a virtual audition to direct this film) can only offer a polaroid-tinted, chicly realised America. Failing to capture the thrill of landscape, music and moment-to-moment living that was the lifeblood of Kerouac’s novel, it is a film that works better as solid drama than beat cinema, more likely to appeal to the uninitiated than fans.
None of which makes On The Road unpalatable on its own terms, or without some nicely realised moments. But those familiar with its inspiration will likely find Salles’ film more concerned with period detail then genuine faith fulness, and devoid of the unhinged spirit of its author. In the end, it retains its status as a journey to who-knows-where, yet probably not in the way its original author intended.
•• Little White Lies, Matt Bochenski: Walter Salles’ reverent adaptation of this American classic strikes a discordant note.
It emerged like music from the clattering rhythm of a typewriter, a symphony of turbulent youth and forlorn adventure. But it moved to its own beat – the percussion of leather on gravel. Jack Kerouac may have captured a moment but he didn’t contain it. 'On the Road' was the book that became a journey, a rite of passage for a generation with their eyes on the horizon. It was the story that continued to move. The rhythm that continued to beat. But fainter and fainter.
Written in 1951 but only published six years later, the book's relationship with its own era was never straightforward. Its success precipitated Kerouac’s own decline, stripping him of the outsider status that fuelled his work. Half a century later, it may still be part of the hipster travel bag, but age has turned its iconoclasm into something more like nostalgia, if not cliché.
Kerouac, of course, wasn’t the only figure from the '60s counterculture to find himself absorbed by the establishment he loathed. Che Guevara faced a similar fate, which is why it makes sense that this long-delayed adaptation should fall to Walter Salles, director of The Motorcycle Diaries.
In retrospect, that account of Che’s early years looks like a proving ground, a template even, for how to tackle the supposedly ‘unfilmable’ nuances of Kerouac’s novel. But there are crucial differences. Where The Motorcycle Diaries felt its way around the edges of Che’s life, inferring and foreshadowing the events to come, 'On the Road' is the seminal event of Kerouac’s career. The challenge for Salles is to illuminate this story without fixing it, to capture but not cage it within the dimensions of a cinema screen.
But for all the tragic grandeur of Garrett Hedlund’s Dean Moriarty, or the sun-blushed sexuality of Kristen Stewart (never better than she is here), for all the sweat and youth and vitality battering against the screen, On the Road can neither transport nor transcend. In straining to fit the limitations of cinema, it cuts Kerouac’s novel down to size, reduces what it attempts to immortalise. But perhaps it humanises, too.
Mindful of Bull Lee’s reproach that ‘translation is treason’, Salles and his screenwriter Jose Rivera have adapted 'On the Road' with studied reverence. It’s a kinetic thing, vivid and muscular, that swings back and forth between San Francisco and New York, with interludes in a Louisiana madhouse and a Mexican brothel.
New York is home to Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), a French-Canadian writer who stands on the threshold of the 1950s with "the awful feeling that everything is dead". He runs with a bohemian crowd of drunks and junkies, poets of dissolution like Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), who "never say or do an uncommon thing", but dream of creating a new world to house their alienation. They find inspiration in Dean Moriarty.
Both prophet and parasite, his appetites drive them out beyond the city, into America, where Sal’s story drifts in the air currents of Oldsmobiles and flatbeds, in the company of grifters and migrants. There’s a loose narrative about Dean’s infatuation with the teenage Marylou (Stewart), the way he picks her up and flicks her aside for a new sweetheart, Camille (Kirsten Dunst), then betrays her as well. How the passion in Dean’s eyes is eventually shown to be something closer to grief. How he slips away from Sal, too, and how youth slips away from them all.
And yet for all its languorous melancholy, On the Road is a celebration of this impermanence. It’s a film of breathless arrivals and swift departures, of fleeting sex and doomed affairs. Sal, Dean and Marylou may be racing towards self-destruction, but they never slow down. The world is permanently in their rear-view mirror.
That doesn’t make Salles’ film a traditional road movie. On the Road isn’t about travel; it’s about life – the road is simply the medium of Sal’s, and therefore Kerouac’s, story. As the movie’s opening scene suggests, Kerouac expressed himself in footsteps, he wrote his life into the landscape and punctuated it with the intersection of other lives, other stories.
That makes the film patchwork and episodic, but it also makes On the Road a rich ensemble, with memorable cameos from Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, Alice Braga as a migrant labourer, and Steve Buscemi as an uptight travelling companion who shares an eye-watering night with Dean.
So what is it about On the Road that falls short? That feels so… limited? It’s partly that watching somebody else’s trip is never as fun as experiencing it yourself. At some point in the wide-angled rush of landscapes slipping by, the screen becomes a kind of photographic slide, and Sal a monotonous narrator. There’s also the wearying sense that Sal and Carlo aren’t quite as smart, quite as funny, quite as fascinating as they seem to find themselves. And it doesn’t help that Sam Riley is so assiduously 'performing' Kerouac’s voice, which results in much of his dialogue sounding laboured.
There is, above all, a kind of numbing deference to Salles’ adaptation – a sense that On the Road has been fitted to the screen because it ought to be, not because it needs to be. And so the film quotes from Kerouac’s life and work with the same academic dispassion that Sal and Dean display towards Proust’s Swann’s Way, which accompanies them back and forth from coast to coast.
Dean quotes from the book at one point: "Why, what in the world should we care for if not our lives, the only gift the Lord never offers us a second time." But it’s hard to decide if these characters are profligate or truly blessed; believers or apostates. Certainly the women in their lives are both worshipped and rejected. Whatever the charms of Marylou or Camille, it’s never enough to anchor their men, because they can’t extinguish the fire that drives them away and back again. So they’re left to deal with the grim realities that Dean leaves in the tracks of his departures.
Until, finally, this film and these people that burn, burn, burn simply fizzle out. And you realise, as Sal buys a suit, says goodbye to Dean for the last time and sits in front of his Underwood with a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey, that this moment was over before Kerouac even set it down on paper. He was already writing an obituary for something the rest of the world didn’t even know had been born.
What does that make this version of On the Road? A memorial, perhaps. A fitting monument to something passed, suitably solemn but absent its own spark of life. A film fixed irresistibly on its own rear-view mirror.
•• The Guardian, Philip French: Years in the making, Walter Salles's movie adaptation of Kerouac's beat classic is bold, affecting and inherently sad.
The first two books I bought when I arrived in New York as a graduate student in August 1957 were William H Whyte's The Organization Man and a special edition of the avant-garde quarterly Evergreen Review on the "San Francisco scene". They complemented each other. Whyte's book is a devastating assault on American conformity by a senior editor of the business magazine Fortune. The Evergreen special was a celebration of the countercultural artists soon to be famous as leaders of the beat generation, and the writers featured as members of the San Francisco scene were Allen Ginsberg, whose poem "Howl" was published earlier that year, and Jack Kerouac, whose On the Road was to be the literary sensation of 1957 when it appeared a month or so later.
During that autumn my principal term paper for a class on magazine writing at Indiana University's journalism school was called "The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men", contrasting the revolutionary cultural movements on either side of the Atlantic: Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and Colin Wilson's The Outsider up against "Howl" and On the Road. They were all reacting against hollow, regimented postwar societies, but as I recall it I found the American writers altogether more positive, expansive and ebullient than their bitter British contemporaries.
These memories are prompted, of course, by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's film version of "Howl", which opened here last year, and the Brazilian Walter Salles's bold, faithful adaptation of On the Road, some five years or more in preparation. Salles made a fine film in 2004 of The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara's account of discovering his native continent and finding himself while travelling around Latin America with an Argentinian friend. This can be seen as preparation for the larger task of bringing to the screen Kerouac's autobiographical novel of crisscrossing the United States in battered cars, by bus or hitchhiking in the years immediately after the second world war, constantly meeting up with the charismatic Neal Cassady. A hard-living, yea-saying individualist, Cassady is an extreme egotist, constantly on the move, who exploits the women around him. Kerouac, who figures in the novel as Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), is a shy, academically inclined 25-year-old in 1947 when he and Cassady, called Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) in the book, meet and agree to tutor each other. Sal becomes Dean's literary mentor; Dean instructs introvert Sal in the liberated beat existence of sex and drugs and bebop.
In addition to being a Bildungsroman about Kerouac/Paradise's own development as man and writer, On the Road is about the creation of a new literary wave, the soubriquet "beat generation" obviously echoing "lost generation", the title Gertrude Stein bestowed on Hemingway, Fitzgerald and their expatriate comrades in arms after the first world war. So the novel and film also feature Allen Ginsberg, thinly disguised as the bearded, bespectacled Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), and William Burroughs (played by Viggo Mortensen) figures as Old Bull Lee. In a brilliant cameo, Mortensen gets Burroughs's flat, wry voice exactly right as he denounces Moriarty as psychotic, exposes how the English translation of Voyage au bout de la nuit bowdlerises Céline's original, and hilariously demonstrates his version of Wilhelm Reich's ludicrous, once fashionable orgone boxes for the control of psychic energy.
Back in 1980, John Byrum made Heart Beat, an interesting, highly romantic movie about the triangular relationship between Kerouac (John Heard), Cassady (Nick Nolte) and Cassady's first wife, Carolyn (Sissy Spacek). It had an outsize performance by Nolte (with echoes of Anthony Quinn's Zorba) and a visual style that resembled, and at certain points recreated, paintings by Edward Hopper. Salles's film is much harsher visually, and often as not he shows the itinerant life – winter on the road, life in seedy hotels, badly paid casual work – as no better than it was for the unemployed back in the 1930s. Salles is also more critical than the novel is of Moriarty's casually exploitative attitude to women, and by assembling a remarkable cast – Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss – he gives far greater depth and substance to Kerouac's thinly conceived female characters. The overall effect, however, is to make Moriarty a far less attractive figure than he is when seen exclusively from Kerouac's point of view.
Salles and his screenwriter José Rivera give shape to what many have seen – wrongly I think – as a rambling, incoherent narrative. They make powerfully affecting the final break between a dispirited Moriarty, who meets up with a newly confident, smartly dressed Sal Paradise just off to a Duke Ellington concert at the Metropolitan Opera. And they create a striking image of the tearing in two of a photograph taken in a Greyhound station booth of Sal, Dean and Carlo as they split up early on. This picture is eventually restored when Sal sets about writing the novel that he has spent five years living. There he is at last with the seemingly endless scroll of paper that will allow him to type uninterrupted using the new mode of "spontaneous bop prosody" he's created. (The scroll, now a revered historical object, is currently on show at the British Library.) But this is ultimately a rather sad film, as most road movies are, because the restless travelling life can never bring peace and contentment. Arguably the finest example of the genre, Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, ends with the film burning up inside the projector and uses as its leitmotif the refrain from Me and Bobby McGee, Kris Kristofferson's great song about life on the road: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
•• Liverpool Student Media, Gregory Miller: Rating 3/5
55 years on, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is still regarded by many as one of the greatest pieces of American literature and the bible of the ‘Beat Generation’. Many attempts at a film adaptation have been made, but unfortunately none have ever come about. The film’s production rights have been juggled between many players, finally landing in the hands of Francis Ford Coppola in 1979, where they would lie in waiting until now.
The film focuses on Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) as he sets off on a journey across America to find inspiration for his next book. Luckily he finds it in the form of Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a man who never yawns or utters a commonplace thing, a man mad to live and a man that Sal will now do nearly anything for. The two men work, charm and steal their way across the continent, dabbling in all the delights available to them; especially women and drugs.
One such woman is Dean’s girlfriend Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart. Known for her role as Bella in The Twilight Saga, Marylou is quite the opposite and is likely to shock those looking for something similar. This time she plays a young girl helplessly infatuated with Dean Moriarty, at the same time as playing temptress to Sal. Her role is more like the one she played in Welcome to the Rileys, another film worth watching for those who want to appreciate her work outside of Twilight.
On The Road may be a period film but that isn’t to say that it relies on old cars, costume design and dusty sets. Walter Salles has attempted to capture the mood of a generation disenfranchised from its predecessor, and on the whole it is a good attempt; employing music as the main vehicle.
With regards to the film’s music, the soundtrack is a beat poet’s dream. From walking double bass groves to tenorman solos, each scene is matched perfectly to the sounds of the time. Riley delivers his raspy monologues over pockets of cool jazz, each occurrence almost a beat poem itself; something which is by no means an accident. As Dean himself would say – they got “it”.
As you would expect from a film documenting two men’s journey across the North American continent, the scenery is beautiful; and the techniques that present this to us are equally impressive. The screen is saturated with as many vivid and different colours, as there are different people they meet. A paticular highlight is a fog grey Golden Gate Bridge, its towers and wires pulsing to a heartbeat from the screen.
Although the film is a book adaptation, don’t let this put you off. It is a very good film that deserves a fair share of praise in itself; definitely worth watching on the big screen (if only for the landscapes). However, don’t miss the opportunity to read the book either; chances are you’ll enjoy it even more than the film.
•• The Oxford Student, Rachel Brook: The announcement that Walter Salles was adpating Kerouac’s 1957 beat novel On the Road was met with some scepticism due to the rambling quality of the novel’s narrative. The film-makers were challenged not to create a truly faithful translation, but to capture the frenzied feeling of the source material.
Some of techniques employed to this end are perhaps a little obvious; handheld cameras and extensive use of sound effects create claustrophobia rather than euphoria as Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) first appear. This improves as the film continues, and the later use of jump cuts effectively portray the fast pace of the characters’ lives and suggest their drug-addled perceptions.
Screenwriter Jose Rivera makes no attempt to move the story beyond the novel’s sporadic focus on Dean Moriarty. Intimate fans of the book will be pleased by the inclusion of familiar digressions, but other viewers may be less than impressed by the lack of structure. For example, the story of Sal’s short-lived relationship with Terry is not omitted although it defers focus from Dean. This allows for the film’s most impressive sets; bedraggled canvas tents flutter in the wind, withstanding the weather just as Sal (temporarily) withstands his work as a cotton picker. Throughout, panoramic location shots involve the audience in Sal, Dean and Marylou’s experiences; as Sal remarks in the novel, we are ‘reading the American landscape’.
Salles’ film also places emphasis on Sal as a writer. This is achieved through a sporadic voiceover using text taken from the novel. However, more thoughtful is the tying of the film to the autobiographical roots of Kerouac’s text. The final act sees an energised Sal tape several sheets of paper together and load them into his typewriter, just as Kerouac is rumoured to have done when writing On the Road. It is here that the frantic beat lifestyle is best expressed.
Salles’ attempt to maintain this urgency and pace results in some tantalisingly brief performances; skilled and respected actors such as Steve Buscemi and Amy Adams are reduced to little more than cameos.
The unlikely casting of Kristen Stewart as 16 year old Marylou is more fruitful. Stewart is able to modify her voice in order to play a character much younger than her, and crafts a multi-faceted performance. She is at once childlike and adventurous, yet succeeds in expressing yearning for a life of greater stability than that which she finds on the road. Sam Riley’s performance is characteristically understated, although he is more likeable here than as the psychotic Pinkie in 2010’s Brighton Rock. Garrett Hedlund’s performance as Dean provides the bedrock; his exuberance engages the audience just as Dean’s affects his fellow travellers. They are fascinated by his Peter Pan-like nature; however, the boy who will not grow up ultimately burns out instead.The presentation of Carlo’s feeling for Dean is over-exaggerated; his attraction is clearly stated rather than subtly suggested. This gesturing towards an exploration of homosexuality becomes the weakest element of the film. Sturridge’s emotive performance is sympathetic, but his storyline is under-developed compared to the film’s heterosexual relationships.
Salles’ On the Road also lacks Sal’s first person perspective, meaning the overarching attitude is that of the film-makers; the sympathetic view of Dean’s wife Camille (Kirsten Dunst) and baby suggests a desire to portray him as cruel. However, Salles also leaves room for a more sympathetic interpretation with the heart-rending image of the dirty, downtrodden Dean, aptly juxtaposed with a matured and suited Sal as the film ends.
This adaptation retains Kerouac’s power to infect youngsters with a desire to travel, and even make them nostalgic for a time they never even knew.
•• Rama's SCREEN: Rating 3/5
Part of being a political thriller novels fan is that I often miss out on classic comfort novels beloved by many, such titled as The Catcher In The Rye and On The Road, stories about identity, connection, and freedom of sexuality. So going into ON THE ROAD, the only motivator I had was the fact that I admired director Walter Selles’ 2004 film, Motorcycle Diaries, which to me remains one of the best road trip films ever made.
ON THE ROAD is a vehicle for some of today’s young actors or rising stars, to show us how far they’d push the envelope, that they could bravely dare to do the provocative, and while they successfully did exactly that, at the end of the film, just like that Dean Moriarty fella, I’m still trying to find its purpose, the purpose of this film’s existence..
ON THE ROAD is a medium for Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, and Garrett Hedlund to show the world that they can handle whatever roles thrown at them and I commend them for that, I remember the days after Tron Legacy hit theaters, the fans were split in the middle, some liked the film, some didn’t, but they all agreed that Hedlund was the weakest link, but in ON THE ROAD, Hedlund taps into his acting side and breaks out. What makes Dean Moriarty interesting is that we all know a Dean Moriarty in our lives, that one person in our circle of friends, who seems invincible, thinks himself as God’s gift to women, lives a one day at a time, carefree lifestyle, and just as Viggo Mortensen’s character puts it, Dean doesn’t feel responsibility towards others. Now, psychologists may blame it on the absence of fatherhood, and Dean’s endless need to fill his void, but that’s analysis for another time.
Kristen Stewart surprises me in ON THE ROAD, this is the Kristen Stewart that also shocked me in Welcome To The Rileys. Not only does she bare it all, the fact that she’s willing to go the distance to prove her character’s insecurity, deserves some recognition. I think Stewart will always have that somewhat innocence look on her face that makes her qualified to play characters younger than her age, exploring or using her sexuality just to get by.
Sam Riley plays Sal Paradise, who I can only assume to be Kerouac’s alter ego, or personification. Willing to embark on a journey with Dean, no matter how shameless it gets.
ON THE ROAD is a celebration of postwar beat generation, surrounded by jazz, poetry, and drug use. This is an era of experimentation, and people going with the flow, it’s an era after the war and people are seeking meaning but since they can’t find it, they’d simply navigate their way through the world and Dean is the representation of that, no sense for consequences, keeps making and leaving mistakes and causing heartaches along the way, but inside, he’s a frightened, weary individual. The fact that his buddies, Marylou (Stewart) and Paradise (Riley) stayed with Dean as long as they did, may come off baffling, I suppose it’s the rebel attraction thing, at times I even wonder if Paradise and Marylou are enablers or victims in this story, for hanging out with Dean. Or perhaps it takes hanging out with someone like Dean to finally get the light bulb to turn on in your head and get your act together.
From what I can gather, fans of the book tolerate this adaptation because it’s one book that’s supposedly quite challenging to adapt.
Motorcycle Diaries leads to a life’s calling, ON THE ROAD on the other hand leads to broken unresolved friendship, Paradise would be out on the road by himself and he frequently finds himself with Dean all over again and vice versa until he can finally break that chain and leave Dean in an ambiguous ending, possibly still yearning for some belief and belonging.
The fact that Salles got a group of familiar faces to play supporting roles is evidence of how beloved this story is. ON THE ROAD is well-acted. iIt did its job as a film, the best that it could, the best way it knew how, but that’s about it. It’s definitely more engaging than The Rum Diary, I tell ya that much.
•• The Moveable Fest, Stephen Saito: It didn’t surprise me that after the Toronto premiere of “On the Road,” Walter Salles spoke of reading the Jack Kerouac novel before he embarked on his 2004 breakthrough “The Motorcycle Diaries.” It wasn’t the first time he read it, noting that at 18 when he first picked up a copy, it was an assurance that “all possibilities were endless” while living in Brazil where roads were physically closed. In fact, “On the Road” is a path he traveled before to some degree, using his treatment of Che Guevara’s early days, which wisely downplayed the legend of the future Cuban revolutionary while planting the ideas for what was to come, as a map for tackling one of the most hallowed works of American literature, refusing to be in awe of it.
That allows “On the Road,” a film that famously took Francis Ford Coppola over a decade to adapt before passing it on to his son Roman (now a producer on this version) and finally Salles, to breathe, though there are many moments where Salles’ treatment will leave you breathless. Like “Motorcycle Diaries,” the film is presented with immaculate technical skill, loaded with such a deep bench of talent that Jim Jarmusch’s accomplished longtime editor Jay Rabinowitz is listed as an assistant editor on the project. (“Dancer in the Dark” cutter François Gédigier gets top billing.) The result is an immersive retelling of Kerouac and Neal Cassady surrogates Sal and Dean’s travels through America, the latter on a quest to serve his unquenchable sexual appetite and the former with a similar thirst for new experiences to feed his writing. They’re joined at various times by Allen Ginsberg-esque poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and Marylou (Kristen Stewart), the free spirit who loves them both.
Salles picks his spots to pull from the original text verbatim, but the film gets the musicality of the language down pat recited by actors who can carry the tune, augmented by the insistent rhythm of the editing. “On the Road” becomes a visual replication of a page-turner, with most scenes flitting past just long enough to make an impression of the jazz enjoyed, the drugs ingested and the fleeting relationships that its characters might later yearn to be permanent, all keeping at the feverish pace that Sal can commit it to paper.
There are casualties of this approach, including the appearances from Amy Adams and Terrence Howard, whose all-too brief cameos are one of the few things that call attention to the prestige of the production, and the overall power of certain scenes may be undercut by the desire to rush to the next. However, the totality of the world Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera have created, along with the late ’40s era period detail that had to be created for even the smallest of scenes, is undeniably impressive.
The same certainly can be said for most of the actors, the leads in particular. Sam Riley, who was memorable in the Ian Curtis biopic “Control,” has the thankless task of serving as the story’s guide and does it admirably, still ceding much of the floor to Garrett Hedlund as Dean, whose toothy grin has been deployed in something other than the bland roles he’s been assigned previously in “Tron: Legacy” and “Troy.” Let loose, the actor is something of a discovery as the lone wolf, charismatic enough to keep the revolving door to his bedroom and his position in the driver’s seat unquestioned but wearing both the vulnerability and idealism that drives such pursuits on his face at all times.
Surprisingly, the film’s other revelation is Kristen Stewart, who has consistently proven her dramatic chops elsewhere, but shakes off any pent-up sexual frustration from the “Twilight” series or the appearance of androgyny that’s often been part of her previous work. So often punished for her sexuality that’s been limited to a curled lip or a pensive glance (even when she played a prostitute in “Welcome to the Rileys”), she is empowered by it here, heartbreakingly portraying a different kind of purity in the way she gives her love so freely. It makes the contrast between her and a reserved Kirsten Dunst as Dean’s wife Camille become more than the sidenote that it could’ve been in a lesser adaptation and while “On the Road” can feel overwhelming at times, it never itself is overwhelmed – by Kerouac’s sprawling prose, by the youthful exuberance of its cast or by its naturally unwieldy narrative. However, Salles’ “On the Road” brings this major work back to its original scale: small, intimate and still wild at heart.
•• The Huffington Post, Tony Bartolone: On the Road starts off speeding, snapping the audience's heads back against their padded seats, and kidnapping them. Taking 'em to the 1940s, America. At some point each voyeur has to decide whether they are in or out.
The challenges the movie presents to an audience combined with the colossal, iconoclastic shadow of the source material may eclipse the movies potential. That is a great shame, because the abstruse achievement is worth notice. The worst thing you can say about the film is it has the same faults as the book. As Truman Capote famously said, "That's not writing, it's typing." The story stumbles, but never falls. Bob Dylan (who much more identifies with Kerouac) said, "I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be." I encourage audiences to take this sage saying with them to the cinema, forget everything they know, and watch the light dance off the screen.
True beauty is mad. Every movie can use a little more madness. I eventually found myself fully immersed in this fever dream of freedom, this ascent into adventure, this journey in search of je ne sais quoi. The reason the Kerouac-classic-stream-of-consciousness-experiment-in-writing has survived is because of its spirit. The reckless rushing of words jump from the page, seducing something primal in the hearts of the willing, the wanting. The spirit, the passion, the careless cacophony of colloquial color is what galvanized the beat generation. And it seems the mission statement of Walter Salles and Jose Rivera to catch Kerouac's lightning in a film canister. Remarkably, the magic burns through the youthful characters under Salles' skillful direction and Rivera's reverently irreverent adaptation.
The cast serves the words exquisitely. Garrett Hedlund's audaciously dynamic performance is grounded by Sam Riley's rock-solid portrayal of the engrossed young writer. Complemented by an ensemble of generative talent, Riley and Hedlund's duo of dharma bums is one of the strongest screen pairings of recent memory. Ultimately, the acting is seamless in rhythm with the rest of the film. That is to say, it is not without flaw, instead it is outshined by flashes of brilliance. The wonderful quality of this film is, in turn, in line with that wonderful quality of Kerouac. Those explosions of firewords completely make up for the lulls. It is writing that is beautiful, as anything genuinely marvelous is; in it's own imperfection.
Walter Salles did a fantastic job, along with his team, of fitting this tricky, zigzagging puzzle of a story together with the collaboration of an impressive team. Gustavo Santaolalla does magnificent work composing vibrant, pounding music that sets the stage for the frantic, yet cohesive, energy of the picture. The editing by Francois Gedigier is composed just as painstakingly in top-form as the music. Danny Glicker does lovely work, as always, putting together costumes, not only that fit the time, but also the overall, grand vision. And finally, perhaps most integral unsung hero, Cinematographer Eric Gautier, captures the imagined electricity in striking optical spectacular.
During the entire length of the film -- through all the meandering beauty and freedom and sex and poetry -- I was thinking to myself, "This better pay off somehow in the end." And astoundingly, it did. The price of gratuitous freedom is heartbreakingly painted in all its fragile, emotional vulnerability. Like a fucking gut punch. For the Academy to recognize this rare cinematic achievement maybe too much to ask. However, I sincerely hope that young, interesting people see this film and feel the way I did as it came to a close. "Moriarty."
•• Daniel Krone: "On the Road" is a book about certain events in the life of it's author Jack Kerouac when he went on a series of pot and Benzedrine induced road trips and adventures during the late 1940's, filled with jazz, sex, and misadventure.
The book was written in 1951 apparently on a paper towel roll he'd gotten because he was out of paper and the impending prose would later be published by Viking press in 1957 and be a major catalyst in spawning what has been referred to as 'The Beat Movement'.
I've only read about the first 3 chapters of this book. Yeah listed on Time Magazine's list of 100 greatest modern novels and I only got 3 chapters in and the Modern Library ranked it as 55th on its list of 100 best English-language novels as well.
So let's talk about the movie...
If you know anything about the book you know that each character represents a real life person...the names have been changed blah blah blah. If you know the history of the beat movement and the 3 catylists that started it are Kerouac and this book. "Howl" an epic poem by Alan Ginsberg and "Naked Lunch" by William Burroughs.
All three of which make an appearance in this film. Obviously Kerouac is played by actor Sam Riley whose only other film role I can think of is as Ian Curtis in "Control" the movie about the band Joy Division.
(Which makes me hope that Sam will be the kind of actor that chooses his roles and persona very carefully, so I'm eager to see what he'll do next.)
Viggo Mortensen as "Old Bull Lee" or his real life counter part William Burroughs.
Garrett Hedlund plays the lead character or better yet the catalyst, "Dean Moriarty" or Neal Cassady (also one of the very best performances in the film).
Tom Sturridge plays Carlo Marx also known as classic beat poet Alan Ginsberg (he was the one I didn't notice right away, mainly because I'm used to the look of the older bearded Ginsberg. Who sadly isn't in the film a whole lot, but I guess it's based on a true story.).
I like this film and I like this film a lot more now that I'm still thinking about it.
One of the most striking things about this film is the cast, it gets to a point in the film where you say oh she's in it, he's in it, she's in this too wow. Your almost blown away by the variety of great character actors in the ensemble. But even with Francis Coppola producing, even with IFC and Sundance backing the film, even with great reviews in countries like France, even with this cast I cannot see this film appealing to a mass audience do to one glaringly obvious fact...and a fact of the novel as well. The novel was written in one night on a paper towel in a Benzedrine kick and spewed out two parts life philosophy and quick paced anecdotes about wild impromptu road trips across the country...it has absolutely no plot.
This is extremely compelling because of the vastness of the cast and attention to the detail of the period. This film does not look cheap in any way. It's edited and moves like free form jazz from one moment and story arch to the next and seemly stops to pause before it turns another corner. The cinematography captures the starkness and beauty of how America was in the late 1940's. And it's just a serious of sexual endeavors, talking about writing, doing drugs, going to jazz clubs and the occasional pauses and beautiful poetic moments of sobering up and looking at real life through those glass eyes. For the most part I refer to Dean Moriarty as the lead character not Sal mainly because Sam plays a great reactionist, for the most part, like the audience he is along for the ride that is his wild friend Dean. Most people are used to the main characters in a film being all about action but the main character in this film pauses and goes along for the ride and is mostly about reaction which allows the film to have beautiful, sometimes funny, quiet reflective moments about everyday wild life being caught up in the shit-storm and passion and energy that was Neal Cassidy's (Dean's) real life. The film is a masterpiece in terms of poetic pauses and moments of 'real life' clarity and all the sloppiness that ensues in an 'adventure' that most adventure films tend to forget.
"Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk - real strait talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious."― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
The beat movement defined a generation and continues to influence writers, artists, and poets.
This is the meaning of the film. It's a mediation on life and it's meanings. It says that everything in it doesn't have to be so rigidly structured and much like the style of the generation the film isn't structured. The film plays like a stream of consciousness memory recall from point to point, anecdote to anecdote and moment to moment.
As I have said, the film lacks a structure but everything else about it is top notch, the music, acting, character moments, cinematography and everything else about it. So if you like the stream of conciousness style and especially if you like the book this film is for you.
What "Dazed and Confused" did for teenagers in the 1970's, "On the Road" does for poets and writers in the 1940's and does it with just as much passion and zest.
If you don't mind a style that is kind of like the Jazz of the period and if you don't need a rock solid plot to 'know what the film is about' or if a film doesn't really need to be about anything solid, just about reflections of life...than this film is probably for you.
"So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty."
This movie is about how you affect other people's lives, and how the people you surround yourself with affect yours...so if you're the type of person who can "Howl" for Carl Solomon, than you probably wouldn't mind going on the road with Dean Moriarty.
•• Awards Circuit, Joey Magidson: Rating 3/4
This long in the works adaptation of the literary classic manages not to disappoint...
After what feels like just about an eternity, I finally saw ‘On the Road’ back in early October at one of the first screenings post Toronto. This is a film that’s been on the verge of release so long it’s almost become an annual joke between Clayton and myself about including it in predictions at the start of each season. Well, this is the year that we can finally talk about the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s legendary book and where it stands in the Oscar race. The verdict on the awards front is that it’s a long shot at best in most categories. Aside from that though, this is a pretty good, if difficult, road trip drama with some notably strong acting from Garret Hedlund and Kristen Stewart especially. Sam Riley is very solid too, but those first two really shine. Walter Salles has shot an absolutely beautiful movie and along with scribe Jose Rivera has captured the words of Kerouac about as well as one could have hoped for (by using the original scroll, actually), even dating back to the days of Francis Ford Coppola seeking to adapt the seminal novel. It’s not especially Academy friendly, and hardly perfect, but it’s not something to completely cross off of your lists either. Time will tell in that regard, but this is a flick worth seeing regardless of its potential for Oscar nominations. The movie opens next week and yes, it was worth the wait, even if it took me almost two months to fully formulate a review of it…
For anyone unaware of the plot already, I’ll briefly get into it, but be forewarned right here and now…there’s not a whole lot of plot to begin with, though the book is pretty well represented here. We’re still following the writer Sal Paradise (Riley), a stand-in for Kerouac himself, who sees his life and mind expanded by a friendship with Dean Moriarty (Hedlund) and his free-spirited wife Marylou (Stewart). Sal is an aspiring writer in New York City, while Dean is a former con with charm to spare, not to mention a wife in Marylou who’s open to many forms of experimentation. Their connections, much of which spent literally on the road, are intimate, weighty, and deeply sexual. They’re driving off in search of whatever they can find, be it in the world or themselves. Along the way they come into contact with a whole host of other people, some with similar world views, some with distinctly different ones, including Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg (Tom Sturridge), who they spend a decent amount of time with, and Old Bull Lee/William S. Burroughs (Viggo Mortensen). Most of the time, however, they spend their time with each other. If you’re not familiar with the Beat Generation or Post World War II American Literature, you’re not going to become an expert here, but hopefully you’ll catch the essence of what it all meant.
There’s some real good acting to admire in this film, even if the characters do sometimes hold you at arm’s length in a way. Sam Riley is rather understated most of the time, though he perks up and lets loose at the appropriate moments. He’s often more observational than anything else, which does make sense considering he’s a writer and essentially using these life experience for material. Garret Hedlund overshadows Riley a bit, essaying a character who’s got a real zest for life. I’m not sure ever could have matched what was on the page, but he’s very good at probably better in the role than most would have been. The real acting high point for me is Kristen Stewart though, who does near career best work as the young bride/muse/sex object. It’s a very brave performance and Stewart nails it. Yes she bares all, but the part is about much more than just that. If anyone deserved recognition from this film, it’s her. Tom Sturridge and Viggo Mortensen are lively in supporting turns, while Amy Adams is solid, if unspectacular. Also in the cast we have Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Alice Braga, and Elisabeth Moss, though none really wowed me. Stewart is the highlight of the cast.
Director Walter Salles and scribe Jose Rivera have again teamed up for a beautiful looking and poetic movie. It’s clearly not an easy movie, and it does often prevent you from really falling for it Salles and Rivera had the herculean task of finding a movie within the book, and while they’re successful, they certainly struggle with the pacing at times. There’s no arguing that cinematography is gorgeous, but the editing and flow of the story is less perfect, resulting in a repetitive feel at times.. It never lost me, but impatient viewers may find themselves drifting at points. A story that has so much writing engrained in its very DNA usually has to go the extra mile to sustain a viewer’s attention, and this flick is no exception. There are rough patches, but by and large Salles and Rivera succeed much more than they fail. This may sound off to some, but Salles has the film at its best when Kristen Stewart is on the screen. It’s both a testament to her only sometimes realized potential and Salles’ skill with the cast, but Stewart is a highlight in just about every way possible.
‘On the Road’ could have wound up as about a dozen different types of adaptations as it bounced from filmmaker to filmmaker, but next Friday audiences will likely be seeing the best version they could have hoped for. The book is of course still better, but this is a very solid translation and in some ways the flaws only make it seem more real. Obviously this isn’t a movie for everyone, and likely will struggle to find real footing, but those who have been looking forward to it will not be disappointed. It may not be an Oscar contender, but it’s a minor miracle that it’s coming out at all, so we should be thankful for that…
•• Criterion Cast, Joshua Brunsting: Within the world of literature, there are great pieces of work, and then there are entire eras whose influence and reach could never be quantified. The Romantic poets, the Harlem Renaissance or the rise of post-modernism are just a few examples of the movements that have swept literature and culture as a whole. However, one generation that may be more beloved than all of them, especially by those of the younger age brackets, is the Beat Generation.
Now, thanks to director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), one of the Beat’s greatest works, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, has finally hit the big screen. Long thought to be completely unfilmable due to the novel’s frenetic energy and incomprehensible melancholy and sadness, Salles’ film does ultimately fall short of the novel’s generation defining status, but holds up as one of the more intriguing and beautifully crafted literary adaptations of this still very young decade.
Featuring an absolutely killer cast, On The Road follows the story of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), a writer who finds his life turned completely upside down by the addition of a new man, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). An incontrollable soul, Moriarty has about as much interest in settling down as he does finding a long lasting career, the very embodiment of his generation’s insatiable appetite for finding its own calling. Along with his on-again-off-again main squeeze Marylou (a never better Kristen Stewart), the trio set off on a journey across the country, at once getting lost in true Americana while also getting trapped in their own insatiable sense of gloom.
As mentioned above, the novel has been looked at by filmmakers for decades now, long thought to be an unfilmable masterpiece of the written word. However, under the watchful eye of director Salles, this proves to be a beautifully crafted ode to a generation who, in their free-spirited nature, are deeply sad creatures. Featuring gorgeous photography from Eric Gautier, the grit and grime of each frame is palpable, and the camera moves with as much energy and lyricism as the characters we follow and the words that come out of their mouths. Ranging from smoke filled New Orleans clubs to icy cold back roads, America is the big star of On The Road, taking the road movie genre and embedding within it an inherent poetry.
It also helps that the cast here is beyond superb. Sam Riley may be billed as the film’s lead, but while he’s great as the narrator Sal Paradise, this is Garrett Hedlund’s film. Coming into Sal’s life like a hammer to the skull, Hedlund’s Dean Moriarty may very well be one of the most surprising performances of the year. Best known for his role in Tron: Legacy, Hedlund is breathtaking here, taking the James Dean-esque character of Moriarty and imbuing within it the deepest sense of melancholy, angts, and ultimately sadness. A character simply unable to settle down his soul, Moriarty is the physical manifestation of the Beat Generation, and this is a career defining performance for Hedlund. Stewart is equally as ferocious here as Moriarty’s romantic foil Marylou, taking on similar beats as her male counter-part, but holding on major difference: she has a will and a way to get out.
Penned by Jose Rivera, On The Road‘s primary flaw comes from its structure and overall tale. Meandering throughout its narrative, the film seems to lack that indelible heart and soul that makes the novel the impossible-to-put-down novel that it has become known as. Lacking the same intensity and angst as the book as well, the film feels a tad too complacent and ultimately trite. The greatness found within the book came two-fold, both from the characters and the voice with which Kerouac wrote them in, neither of which feels fully fleshed out here, instead finding us stuck within the trappings of a rather conventional road picture.
Despite having a hackneyed screenplay, director Walter Salles and his top notch cast save On The Road from being just another stale literary adaptation. Salles is at the top of his visual game here, crafting a beautifully gritty yet oddly poetic meditation on a downhearted generation, and his cast, led by a career confirming Garrett Hedlund, make On the Road a fantastic, if flawed, adaptation of the Kerouac masterpiece.
•• Film.com, Jordan Hoffman: Rating 8/10
I don’t do this often, but when it comes to the topic of the Beat writers, I feel like I have a tiny bit of cred. I attended the 1994 NYU “Beat Conference” and saw Gregory Corso, Tuli Kupfenberg, Hunter Thompson, Cecil Taylor and William Burroughs (via telephone) speak. A friend of mine lived in a tiny studio above Judson Memorial Church. Another friend of mine had sex on Allen Ginsberg’s piano. So when I say that these characters have a special place in my heart, know that it is the place aligned with the first whiffs of youth and freedom. And “On the Road,” the new film by Walter Salles, brought it all back home.
“They’re making a movie of ‘On The Road?’ Oh, that’ll be awful.” That’s what I said in the mid 1990s when Francis Ford Coppola almost did it. It probably would have been awful then – a big, fat, pretentious mess of swirly photography and muted sex. Salles’ film is not that. This “On the Road” is much like the book: mundane, repetitive, desultory and, if you are the type who feels every story has to spell out its purpose in plain prose, pointless. It’s about a bunch of people who hang out, talk, get rowdy, screw, drink, smoke, say pretentious things and write. Since Jack Kerouac’s jazzy attitude and freeform style were at the forefront of a groundbreaking movement the novel has taken on mythic proportions. Heck, the original “scroll” it was typed on (so Kerouac could stay in a groove and not switch out sheets of paper) is currently under glass at the main branch of the New York Public Library. As is a Gutenberg Bible. Dig?
“On the Road” drops you in the deep end and hopes you can fend for yourself. If you have no context of what post-war nonconformists were up against, well, then hopefully you’ll get it by osmosis. Sam Riley’s Sal Paradise (the Kerouac stand-in) is the quiet observer, but he can go wild on the benzedrine and group sex from time to time, too. Tom Sturridge’s Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg) is earnest, frank, soulful and filled with longing. All eyes, though, are on Garrett Hedlund’s Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady).
Dean Moriarty is one of the most charismatic figures in all of literature, so Hedlund has a near-impossible task. He certainly shows more range than in, say, “Tron Legacy,” but the fact that he isn’t an atom bomb of beauty, grace and charm is, I think, key to this film. Even though the Beats were expert at perpetuating their own PR (so much of their work is about how great they all are) they were, you know, just guys. Young guys who thought they knew a lot more about life than they actually did. (That is, except for the spaced-out sage William Burroughs, played for marvelous laughs in quick scenes by Viggo Mortensen).
Hedlund’s normalcy takes the myth of “On the Road” down a peg. The film isn’t a whirlwind of handsome hepcats living a jazz lifestyle in photogenic locations. That’s a Ralph Lauren catalogue, not a film. When we watch Hedlund become an irresistible sex object to Kristen Stewart, Kristen Dunst, Tom Sturridge, Steve Buscemi and this one brunette who puts uppers in her tea it suddenly becomes about a real person, not just an archetype. Considering that, by conventional standards, there’s virtually no plot in this film (seriously, they drive, they get nude, they steal bread, once in a while they yell at one another) it’s through this repetition that, eventually, an understanding of their internal strife connects with you as if by ritual chanting.
This film ain’t for everyone. My “consumer reports” side is urging me to say, again, nothing really happens in the movie. Even the “adventures” aren’t all that shocking. At one point they get a ticket. In Mexico, Sal get’s the sh*ts. To a generation raised on “The Hangover Part 2,” this may be one big snore. I think, however, that this is the only way to make this movie. To spice it up with false conflict would be an affront and to overplay the jazz angle and to go for a dreamlike experimental aesthetic would lead to nothing but rolled eyes. No, this is a plainspoken and restrained filmmaker’s vision, a respectful, tuned-in approach to “On the Road,” and the right way to represent what we see when we, like Sal Paradise, think of Dean Moriarty.
•• Rolling Stone, Peter Travers: Rating 2/4
A dash of Tarantino might have juiced up Walter Salles’ wrongheadedly well-mannered take on Jack Kerouac’s 1957 Beat Generation landmark. Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novel comes to the screen looking good but feeling shallow. Kerouac, here called Sal Paradise and played by Sam Riley, hits the road with his pals to find a non-conformist America spiked by drugs, jazz and poetry. Hey, man.
Sal’s life spins around Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a restless thrill-seeker based on Neal Cassady. Dean, in bed with wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart), invites Sal to hop in. The sights of San Francisco, New Orleans and Mexico can’t compete, especially when Dean hooks up with Camille (a stellar Kirsten Dunst) and hardly discourages the attentions of a poet (Tom Sturridge), modeled on Allen Ginsberg.
Got that? Didn’t think so. Jose Rivera’s script attempts to jam it all in while director Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) keeps a hand-held camera whirling to suggest churning excitement. No deal. Hedlund and Riley do their best. And Stewart, free of Twilight, does better. She’s a live wire. In the front seat of a car with Sal and Dean – all naked – she jerks off both boys with a joy that defines free spirit. The rest of On the Road feels tight and constricted.
•• Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan: There are as many visions of "On the Road," novelist Jack Kerouac's vivid anthem to the romance of youthful freedom and the getting of experience as there are readers. It's a book so influential yet so personal that each succeeding generation since its 1957 publication has picked it up and simply said, as one of its protagonists does, "Oh yes, oh yes, that's the way it goes."
Director Walter Salles has been one of those enthusiasts since he was an 18-year-old growing up in Brazil under a stifling military dictatorship. Best known for transferring Che Guevara's "The Motorcycle Diaries" to film, Salles has lovingly crafted a poetic, sensitive, achingly romantic version of the Kerouac book that captures the evanescence of its characters' existence and the purity of their rebellious hunger for the essence of life.
Salles' version, finely written by Jose Rivera, who also wrote the "Diaries" script, is more than a tribute to people who have passed into legend. Its re-creation of the adventures of Kerouac alter ego Sal Paradise, his best friend and inspiration Dean Moriarty (based on the legendary Neal Cassady, who went on to drive the Magic Bus for Ken Kesey) and Moriarty's wife Marylou uses youthful stars like Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart to show how eternal that yearning remains.
The lure of Kerouac's legacy as Beat Generation avatar is so strong that any number of other prominent actors, including Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Steve Buscemi and Viggo Mortensen, signed on for what are essentially supporting roles in part because the book means so much to them.
A major player in the success of "On the Road" is the lyric cinematography, rich in views of the casual beauty of wide-open landscapes shot in all kinds of weather, of French director of photography Eric Gautier, another "Motorcycle Diaries" veteran.
More than just recording scenery, Gautier shot the entire film in a loose, fluid, almost improvisational manner, a visual style that echoes, with good reason, the off-the-cuff feeling of another revolution the Beats influenced, the French New Wave.
Like a fighter on a diet, "On the Road" has been trimmed by about a quarter of an hour from the version that premiered this year at Cannes. The new edition also opens in a different place, with the movie's first glimpse of the igniter of dreams and enabler of fantasies, the character modeled on the man Allen Ginsberg called "the car thief 'Adonis of Denver,' with his head full of philosophy": Dean Moriarty.
The year is 1947, and Moriarty (Hedlund) is introduced moving cars around a New York City parking lot with an élan that reveals a level of driving skill that helped him steal 500 cars as a youth. He'd previously spent, we're told, a third of his young life in pool halls, a third in jail, and a third in the public library, obsessively accumulating knowledge.
The physical manifestation of the life force, Moriarty proved irresistible to the would-be creative types he meets in New York. These include Sal Paradise (Riley, the star of "Control"), a self-described "young writer trying to take off," and Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), an aspiring poet and fellow baby hipster based on Ginsberg.
Moriarty has not come to New York alone but with Marylou, his 16-year-old child bride, persuasively played by Stewart (cast by Salles after her performance in "Into the Wild") who has thrown herself into her role with excellent results.
If there is a breakout performance in "On the Road," however, it is Hedlund. Previously best known for starring in "Tron: Legacy," Hedlund hits all the right notes in the difficult role of being all things to all people.
From the moment he appears opening the door to his apartment completely naked, Hedlund projects the intimate yet intensely masculine presence that drew everyone like a flame. It wasn't just sexual magnetism that's being conveyed, it's the quality that Ginsberg noticed in Neal Cassady: "His total generosity of heart was overwhelming."
Still living with his mother, Paradise the observer is drawn immediately to someone with a formidable will to action, and the two young men immediately bond over stories of their feckless fathers and a joint intoxication with the idea of the camaraderie of the road.
"The only people for me are the mad ones," Paradise says in one of the book's (and the film's) most celebrated passages. "The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like Roman candles across the night."
Episodic by nature like the book, "On the Road" stays with Paradise as he ping-pongs around the country, gathering experiences he painstakingly records in a series of notebooks. Sometimes he's by himself, sometimes he's with Moriarty, who is soon dividing his sexual attention among Marylou, the new woman in his life Camille (Dunst) and even Carlo Marx.
One of the hallmarks of Salles and Rivera's perspective is that even though these characters can be heedless in search of their pleasures, whether it be through sex or drugs, the film never loses sight of how young everyone is, and by implication, how innocent. How long they can live on "the edge of sanity and experience" before a reckoning looms down the road is the question everyone wants to avoid but, finally, no one can.
•• Slate, David Haglund: On the Road is not a great movie, but it’s a pretty interesting work of literary criticism. The film, written by Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera and directed by the Brazilian Walter Salles, adapts Jack Kerouac’s legendary 1957 novel of the same name, in which Kerouac’s alter-ego, Sal Paradise, buses, hitchhikes, and rides in a car—usually in the backseat; he hardly ever drives himself—between New York, Denver, California, and Mexico City. A few scenes catch the verve of Kerouac’s voice-driven novel: Paradise and several strangers singing in the back of a truck; a car soaring across a flat Western landscape; a sweaty dance sequence. But throughout—whether on purpose or, as sometimes seems to be the case, accidentally—the movie makes one reconsider, and not entirely fondly, the beloved, messy, sporadically thrilling, frequently dispiriting, and widely misunderstood book that inspired it.
The purposeful critique comes mostly by way of the movie’s female characters—who are, as a rule, played by actors more charismatic than the two male leads. Novel and movie each begin with Sal (Sam Riley) meeting Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a poor 21-year-old from Denver who has come to New York, toting Swann’s Way, hoping to study at Columbia and become a writer. Riley looks the part of Paradise, pretty much, though he never quite shakes his British affect; his adopted accent sounds somewhere between Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York and Christian Bale as Batman. Hedlund is a naturally raspy Minnesotan, so when the two meet up with Viggo Mortensen as Bull Lee (aka William S. Burroughs; the names in the largely nonfictional novel were changed, Kerouac said, for legal reasons), the dialogue scenes become a gravelly voice competition. Mortensen, unsurprisingly, wins.
But for sheer screen presence all of them lose to the women—especially Kristen Stewart as Dean’s 16-year-old soon-to-be ex-wife Marylou. From the moment we see her licking rolling papers to make a joint (Sal tells her he’s never seen a girl do that), she holds the camera like no one else in the film. Kirsten Dunst, as Dean’s next wife, Camille, who’s working on a graduate degree in art history in Denver, similarly distracts our attention from Sal and Dean, and so does Amy Adams as Bull’s wife, Jane—aka Joan Vollmer, who was killed by Burroughs in what was apparently a drunken game of “William Tell.”
Salles wants us to pay more attention to them than Kerouac did: He cuts from a scene of Bull, Sal, and Dean discussing Céline to a shot of Jane and Marylou cleaning the kitchen and telling another woman—Galatea Dunkel, abandoned by her husband at Bull’s house—that she needs to give her man blow jobs if she wants to keep him. And Dean’s (temporary) abandonment of Camille after the pair have a baby is much more prominent here than it is in the novel. The real-life Camille, Caroyln Cassady, is a consultant on the movie and author of Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. One suspects that Salles has not only read that book but also the memoir by one-time Kerouac amour Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters, which describes, as The New Yorker put it, “the folly of young women rebelling against their well-meaning parents only to become subservient to indifferent men.”
It’s not that Kerouac was unaware of all the damage that Dean, especially, did. But he forgives it all for Dean’s sexy, charismatic impulsiveness, which to him seems holy. “Bitterness, recriminations, advice, morality, sadness—everything was behind him,” Kerouac writes, “and ahead of him was the ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being.” As Dean, Hedlund gives it his shirtless (and sometimes pantsless) all and has his moments, but if it is humanly possible to convey the “wild yea-saying overburst of American joy” that Sal attributes to Dean—and I have my doubts—then he doesn’t quite succeed. When Hedlund delivers a big monologue to Sal about a interracial four-way—a recitation of which got Hedlund the part, Salles has said—all I could think was: This is a guy who went on and on to you about his orgies.
Maybe it’s just that the transgressions of the Beats don’t feel that transgressive anymore. Kerouac may have thrilled to “the enormous presence of whole great Mexico” with its “billion tortillas frying and smoking in the night,” but when, in the movie, Sal and Dean visit a brothel in Mexico City, the term sex tourism is hard to keep from your mind.
This is a sort of criticism I don’t think Salles intended, but which, watching the film, seems inevitable. Some things just feel different when they are thrust visibly in front of you rather than filtered through the ramshackle prose of Jack Kerouac. Fairly early in the movie, Riley delivers, in his Batman growl, some of the author’s most famous lines. (Though here and elsewhere, Salles and Rivera opt for the slightly different prose of the “scroll,” a draft of the book that Kerouac wrote in 1951 on 120 feet of tracing paper taped together and cut to fit into a typewriter.) The “only people that interest me are the mad ones,” he says, “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.”
While we hear this, Hedlund and Tom Sturridge—a pleasingly vulnerable and goofy incarnation of Carlo Marx, aka the young Allen Ginsberg—are walking bouncily down an alleyway, jumping in puddles and generally making bumptious asses of themselves. Which is pretty much what Sal, in the book, says they’re doing as he shares that thought. But somehow, when reading it, you forget he’s watching a couple of twentysomethings yell half-baked philosophy at each other on a noisy city night. Watching them on screen, it occurs to you: The Beat generation was just a bunch of guys.
•• Vulture, Bilge Ebiri: On the Road Is a Rambling, Beautiful Museum Piece
Walter Salles and Jose Rivera’s adaptation of On the Road begins with the sound of one quick breath, and it’s hard not to read the movie that follows as occurring within the space of the next one. Fast, almost too fast, their film of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel is a dizzying cinematic corollary to the writer’s rhythmic, free-flowing prose. On the Road has its problems, but at times it’s hard not to feel like you’re witnessing a glorious magic trick: a movie that does some basic level of justice to one of the most unfilmable of American literary masterworks.
Kerouac’s book was as much a veiled autobiography as a dazzling, stream-of-consciousness tightrope-walk, and in Salles and Rivera’s telling, the actors here are playing the real-life figures as much as they’re playing the fictional alter egos. As Sal Paradise (the Kerouac stand-in), Sam Riley, who made such a tormented and almost creepy Ian Curtis in the Joy Division biopic Control, is both turned-in and wide-eyed, an introvert who wants to light out for the territory. He’s the child of immigrants, but he’s caught the American bug of craving the openness and possibility of the road. As Dean Moriarty (the Neal Cassady stand-in), Garrett Hedlund is the opposite: He’s a physically confident all-American type, with a sexual appetite that’s positively Neo-classical. But you sense that part of it’s an act, and it is: He confides to Sal that he sometimes sits in his car with a gun pointed at his temple.
In Kerouac’s telling, these guys were the fresh-faced explorers of a new world, but Salles emphasizes something more elemental and constant about them. They’re two young men in search of lost fathers — Sal’s has just died, and Dean’s is homeless. He also brings to the fore the women in their lives. Dean is married to 16-year-old anything-goes siren Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart, who gives probably the best performance of her career, displaying a physicality that has been sorely lacking from her repertoire. As Camille, the girl Dean later also marries, Kirsten Dunst does a similarly impressive job, conveying a kind of bitter vulnerability. The freewheeling back-and-forth between these characters, which crisscrosses years and geographies, is intoxicating, and you feel at times like the director has placed you in their half-baked, inspired headspaces.
Stylistically, the film is both lush and unhinged. The camera seems to never stop twirling, cuts sometimes flow and sometimes jump; dialogue goes from melancholy to manic in the space of an edit. It all feels right, in a sense. But at the same time, Salles has a practically insurmountable task ahead of him: how to be faithful to a revolutionary work of the fifties without turning it into a musty period piece? Here, there are no real good choices. For many years, Francis Ford Coppola (who executive-produced this) wanted to make On the Road on 16mm, in handheld newsreel style, to recapture the immediacy of the moment. That probably wouldn’t have worked, either.
Salles is a sensualist and very much a traditionalist when it comes to his cinema; that’s kind of what we like about him, actually. He and Rivera also collaborated on the young Che Guevara road movie The Motorcycle Diaries, and they bring to this one a similarly reflective quality; you wouldn’t expect a film of On the Road to be nostalgic, but it is. Even as they forge their new future, you sense the characters feeling wistful for something ineffable they may be leaving behind. Maybe that’s because they’re not all bound to find the things they seek: Yes, Sal will become Jack, the great American literary icon, but Dean will become Neal, the inspiration for many great Beat works but also a man whom greatness eluded. Their past together, it turns out, is the fondest thing they had. In other words, this is not the film of a young man. Salles hasn’t reinvented On the Road, but rather turned it into a rambling, beautiful, and occasionally even heartbreaking museum piece.
•• Indiewire, Leonard Maltin: Few books have been as influential and enduring as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the voice of the beat generation, set in the late 1940s and early '50s. Filmmakers have circled this project for years, but it’s taken the gifted Brazilian director Walter Salles and Jose Rivera, his screenwriting partner from The Motorcycle Diaries, to bring it to fruition. I can’t call it an unqualified success—it’s long and uneven—but it has good qualities and some moving vignettes.
Sam Riley plays Sal, an aspiring writer who is drawn into the orbit of a charismatic drifter named Dean (Garrett Hedlund). Dean is the kind of guy who attracts both men and women, even though he doesn’t treat them well—especially the women. He is also consumed by wanderlust, which leads the two men and their traveling companion (Kristen Stewart) on a series of adventures around the country and across the border in Mexico.
Salles tries to capture the immediacy and spontaneous nature of the book, using long takes and even allowing the camera to drift out of focus when a character moves about. Prominent actors (Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen, Terrence Howard) turn up at unexpected moments, playing characters our protagonists meet, only briefly, in their travels. But the movie’s real strength is in evoking the feel of the road in a now-vanished America. If there were an award for location scouting, along with production design, this film would be a prime candidate.
The cast also serves Salles well. Hedlund has the magnetism to bring Dean (based on the real-life Neal Cassady) to life, and help us understand why people are drawn to him. Riley is also quite good as Sal, the Kerouac figure who lives in Queens, New York with his immigrant mother. The nicest surprise is Stewart, who gives a fresh, unmannered performance as Marylou (inspired by the real-life LuAnne Henderson), who throws in with these two urban nomads as they head off for adventure—with Sal hoping the experience will help fire his nascent writing career.
Whatever its vicissitudes, On the Road has one important asset: a great ending. The poignant finale to a vital relationship is beautifully staged and acted.
Unfortunately, I don’t think On the Road the movie will have nearly the impact of the book that inspired it. Perhaps, like many other literary milestones, it was never meant to be a film.
•• The King Bulletin, Danny King: Rating 3,5/4
On the Road, Walter Salles’s elegant, handsome adaptation of the Jack Kerouac literary classic, arrives here in 2012 with a whole lot of baggage. The film version of Kerouac’s fluid, windy, hypnotically impulsive Beat Generation staple has been in the words for decades, with Kerouac himself first pitching an idea to Marlon Brando way back in 1957. Then Francis Ford Coppola, having just completed the most accomplished period of his entire career, picked up the rights to the adaptation in 1979. But nothing ever came of it — the project bounced from screenwriter to screenwriter, not once to any avail. But when Coppola laid his eyes on The Motorcycle Diaries, Salles’s Oscar-nominated adaptation of another acclaimed road novel, he figured that he’d finally located the real goods.
Is the film good enough to sustain over five decades’ worth of build-up? Well, no — there’s probably no film that could’ve transcended such enormous weight. But Salles’s film, based on a screenplay from the Oscar-nominated Motorcycle Diaries scribe Jose Rivera, is an atmospheric delight, soaking in the novel’s free-wheeling ecstasy in such an effective way that many contrarian reviewers have been tempted to throw words like “aimless” towards the film. I’m not convinced, though, that “aimless” is a justifiably negative descriptor here — if the story itself hops around from San Francisco and New York to Mexico and Alabama, isn’t it only appropriate that Salles’s film has the feel of a wandering soul, lost and looking for a place to stay?
The consummate cinematographer Eric Gautier (Into the Wild, Something in the Air) understands this, and he creates a beautiful palette defined by a haze of smoke, crafting images as if they were shot through a slate of cigarette residue. And there are those ice-filled mornings, where Sal Paradise (a husky-voiced Sam Riley) roams around blowing warm air into his hands, searching the streets for a pleasant-looking ride. And then there are those flashes of forests swirling by, the branches and leaves coalescing into a single blur as Dean Moriarty’s (Garrett Hedlund) vintage Hudson tears down the highway, slicing through the white dividing line like a bullet.
Sal first meets Dean in 1947 New York City, through a guy named Chad King (Patrick Costello). When the two shake hands face-to-face for the first time, Dean is butt-naked, having just completed a session of carnal congress with Marylou (Kristen Stewart), his teenage girlfriend. Stewart does something surprising and strong with the role of Marylou, embodying her as a woman who can not only roll joints like she’s trying her shoes, but, more importantly, one who’s made sex her life’s profession. It takes a real presence to sleep around at the frequency with which Marylou sleeps around here and not feel like an object of intercourse, and Stewart pulls it off.
After meeting Marylou — and pretty much coming to the same smitten conclusion — Sal and Dean have a heart-to-heart over a smoke, letting the transparent air and rising sun goad them into becoming immortally-bound soul-mates. They learn that they’re both kids burdened by tough, hardened fathers, Sal having been told by his old man that his lack of “callouses” means that he’s never done any real work. Dean, meanwhile, hasn’t seen his father in forever, can hardly remember what he looks like, and often searches the sidewalks of Denver, trying to find an old man mournfully nursing a thing of whiskey.
The ensuing country-hopping journey that Sal and Dean’s friendship spurs gives rise to a boatload of personalities: the sweet Camille (Kirsten Dunst), whose presence gives Dean an option to settle down and become a dedicated father; the constantly drugged-out Jane (Amy Adams), who smacks her trees with a broom when she’s high; Old Bull Lee (a far-too-brief Viggo Mortensen), a drug-addict so desperate that he’ll shoot-up when his kid’s asleep in his lap; and the depressed Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge, excellent), whose poorly reciprocated feelings towards Dean eventually get channeled into poems of blistering power.
A rewarding aspect of the film is that Rivera primarily adapted it from Kerouac’s original scroll, rather than the published novel, which of course went on to be universally read. This gives the film a bit of a different core — in a strong sense, it’s the influence of the fathers here that ignites the rebellious action — as well as an edgier, more explicitly homosexual romantic intrigue. One of the film’s most memorable scenes involves Steve Buscemi as a traveling salesman, and, in his appearance, we get a taste of how grittily bleak Kerouac interpreted certain experiences in his life. And there is, too, the fact that Dean is an unstoppable sex-magnet, at times even preferring a second male — Sal, Carlo, or anybody else, really — while going at it with a woman in the bedroom.
This brings me to the performance of Hedlund, which is simply one of my favorite male performances of the year (and there have been a lot of great ones). Hedlund gives Dean the irresistible swagger we’ve always imagined — he talks like a country singer, woos people with his intoxicating energy, and is so confident in his physical appearance that he rarely needs to wear anything dressier than a plain-white T-shirt to get people into bed with him. But the magic of the performance — like that of the film in general — is that Hedlund’s Dean is so charismatic and full of passion that he can’t help but also be profoundly sad at the same time. Indeed, he’s quite often both of these things at the exact same time: perhaps Hedlund’s best scene in the film has him switching from talking about suicide to a four-way orgy within the blink of an eye. This is a guy who has no control over himself, and, therefore, can never get a lasting, meaningful grip on the world he lives in.
This theatrical cut of On the Road runs 124 minutes, and it’s largely unsurprising, given the film’s satisfying understanding of the source material, that an extended cut would probably be even better. When it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, it ran closer to 140 minutes, but was unfortunately forced into the editing room on its way to domestic distribution. The melancholy, drawn-out image that plays out over the closing credits — Hedlund’s Dean, his back to the camera, pacing drearily down some middle-of-nowhere railroad tracks — is a prime example of why I’d eagerly accept any longer version that may come our way.
•• Cole Smithey: Rating A-
From Paper to Celluloid — Kerouac’s Journeys Finally Hit Movie Screens
Enough time has passed since Jack Kerouac shocked American literary culture with his free-verse writings that few audiences will fault the film version of “On the Road” for its miscasting of Sam Riley (as Kerouac’s alter-ego character Sal Paradise). Looking nothing like Jack Kerouac and carrying none of the New Englander’s bulky physical bearing doesn’t prevent the talented Riley from giving an empathetic, if shy, portrayal of the Beat Generation icon. Riley’s carefully honed chameleon-like acting skills more than compensate for any obvious discrepancies. He conjures mood and atmosphere like a master magician.
As with the source material, “On the Road” is primarily about Dean Moriarty — a character based on Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s high-spirited bisexual best friend. Here the film plays its ace. Garrett Hedlund depicts Cassady’s untamed nature with an intoxicating ease of conviction and infectious charm. Hedlund is the movie just as Cassady is the book. His all-embracing lust for life drives the story like a whirling dervish exploding with inescapable romantic energy.
This 1947-set period piece captures a repressive time in American history, when a few rebellious young writers threw themselves into a transgressive fit of artistic exploration based on how they lived their day-to-day existence. Cigarettes, booze, pot, and music enable the ride. Bubbling with the jazz rhythms of the time, the film commendably transcends the hedonistic ethos of the Beat Generation that later fueled the hippie movement of the ‘60s, and ironically, if sarcastically, the punk movement of the ‘70s. The movie embraces its colorful characters’ sexual adventures as part and parcel of their rebellious personalities. Present too is the lyrical poetry they created. The filmmakers strike a delicate balance between using just the right amount of voice-over narration and dialogue-readings of carefully crafted verse.
Amy Adams, Kristen Stewart, and Kirsten Dunst add a lot in their respective supporting roles as female objects of sensual desire. There’s a feeling of liberation up on the screen — a kind of freedom that seems unavailable to many of us in the 21st century. We’re talking pure, uncut, human expression of passion on a human level.
Frances Coppola bought the film rights to “On the Road” in 1979. Endless attempts at nailing down a filmable screenplay ended in failure until Coppola was won over by Walter Salles’s “The Motorcycle Diaries” in 2004. Coppola became convinced that the Brazilian filmmaker was up to the tricky challenges of the piece with its jazz-inspired prose and detailed narrative structure. Working with his right-hand screenwriter Jose Rivera, Salles tackled the assignment with due respect to Kerouac’s original manuscript, which Kerouac famously wrote over a three-week period as one long paragraph on a 120-foot roll of paper. Salles went so far as to make a documentary — called “Searching for On the Road” ‘ in which he took a road trip similar to one of the continental crossings Kerouac documented in his book.
“Cool” has become a dirty word in a modern American youth culture that puts a premium on exhibiting a compliant “nice” demeanor. No one wants to recognize the beauty of an unbridled expression of soul — something that the Beats revered above all else.
Salles’s movie is a cause for celebration — the kind where everyone in attendance puts down their inhibitions and acts with immediacy and integrity. You don’t get that from many movies.
•• Reeling Reviews, Laura Clifford: Rating C+
In 1947, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley, "Control") is toiling at becoming a writer in New York City when Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund, "Country Strong," "TRON: Legacy"), a man from the west, opens his eyes to new ideas about music, women and life "On the Road."
Eight years after his last autobiographical road movie, "The Motorcycle Diaries," director Walter Salles takes on the American Beat classic with his "Diaries" screenwriter Jose Rivera ("Letters to Juliet") adapting Jack Kerouac with uneven results. "On the Road" is a film of particular moments, but although it ends well, having gained some momentum as it rolls along, that's mostly due to Garrett Hedlund's performance as the Neal Cassady stand in. Sam Riley just feels all wrong as Paradise/Kerouac, utilizing a rasp that shows every bit of effort used to produce it.
Dean's hedonism is shocking in post-war America, but it's also like someone threw open a window. Sal knocks on a door which is answered by Dean in the nude. He follows Dean to the equally progressive Rita Bettancourt's (Tiio Horn, " Journey to the Center of the Earth," "Immortals") and is invited to make a threesome. The duo begin to zigzag across the country and back, often with little or no money and often with members of their circle, including Dean's teenaged lover Marylou (Kristen Stewart, the "Twilight" series, in a daring, lived-in performance).
One of Sal's solo excursions has him meet Terry (Alice Braga, "I Am Legend," "Predators") on a bus and join her as a migratory cotton picker and this section feels both true and the light counterpart to Freddie Quell's similar but deadly experience in "The Master." The road is open and the sky big here. But other stops along the road are less satisfying, like travels with Ed Dunkle (Danny Morgan) whose furious wife Galatea ('Mad Men's' Elisabeth Moss) was left behind. This is just one episode that has resulted in charges of misogyny against the book and the women here are an odd mix of coconspirators (Rita, Marylou to a degree), balls and chains (Galatea and Cassady's miserable wife Camille (Kirsten Dunst, "Melancholia," "Bachelorette")) and the barely drawn (Jane/Joan Vollmer, Amy Adams, "Trouble with the Curve," "The Master"). The latter is the common-law wife of Kerouac's William S. Burroughs, Old Bull Lee ("The Lord of the Rings'" Viggo Mortensen), who shows off the orgone accumulator in his rural home's yard. Famous people flit in and out of the picture like random episodes.
Tom Sturridge ("Brothers of the Head," "Pirate Radio") impresses as Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg), of whom it is said that 'by the time he's 21, 23 he's gonna write one great poem and he'll be over,' and, of course, Sal receives 'Howl' in the mail to read. Stewart pulls off a teenager older than her years who still seems like a teenager. Her Marylou is free as a bird (a jazz dance is breathtaking) but yearning for commitment and convention at heart. But the meat of the film is in the relationship between the opportunistic (or is he?) Dean, who even leaves Sal alone in Mexico when the latter falls ill, and Sal. There is more than a bromance going on here and the film's final moments pack quite a punch. Riley eventually somewhat grows into his role, but Hedlund grabs us and never lets go.
•• The Philippine Star, Paolo Lorenzana: If On the Road has inspired many a young reader to hit the road and sock conformity in its face, the movement began not too far from here. “A few blocks up is the scene of the crime,” said Walter Salles, the director of the book’s recent film adaptation. “On 20th and 9th Avenue, Kerouac wrote On the Road.”
Salles was present after an advanced screening of On the Road in New York’s indie-championing IFC Center. I was among the first people lucky enough to see the film and have its director on hand to answer questions.
What seemed criminal at first was when I heard that this hugely influential book would be turned into a movie—and starring Twilight top-biller Kristen Stewart, no less. One of the novel’s charms is its rambling, intoxicated nature: protagonist Sal Paradise lets the dangerously charismatic Dean Moriarty steer him across late-‘40s America, fueled by drugs, drink, and the waywardness of jazz. From the country’s great sites to amphetamine-conjured hallucinations, there is so much to see that a film version would be caught in the dust of the material.
After seeing On the Road, I realized how mistaken I was. Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera took me to all the places that mattered in the book, especially the emotional ones. The spontaneity organic to the novel could be felt from the movie, which coursed from rollicking nights of booze and Benzedrine toward mercurial landscapes. Amid all this meandering, Salles manages to tell the story of two men and their doomed friendship. Sal and Dean ride the changing times together as hard as they can, but the former finds a destination while the latter becomes aimless and lost. Still, as Sal adapts to a life more square and domesticated, he “still thinks about Dean Moriarty…”
It’s a boon to the film that Sam Riley, who plays Sal Paradise, embodies his character so well—the Englishman’s wonder and sympathy for Dean Moriarty is as convincing as his adopted cadence of New York blue-collar intellectual. You can also see that Garrett Hedlund allowed Moriarty to possess his entire being. Salles mentions how Hedlund drove from Minnesota to his audition in L.A. and documented the long trip in writing, which told him he was the man for the job. Each time Dean gets feverishly excited—recounting a wild experience or suggesting everyone strip naked—Hedlund is so crazy-eyed, you’re wondering if he’s really on stimulants. And, to my disappointment, Kristen Stewart as Dean’s 16-year-old wife Marylou cannot be denied. Stewart’s subtlety is effective, depicting the enigmatic sexiness of a brazen young woman in conservative society, and possessing the quiet strength such a woman needs with a sonofabitch for a husband.
Perhaps the best performance in this film comes from the road itself. It helps that Salles’ résumé includes The Motorcycle Diaries, which is about Che Guevara’s literal and emotional journey to becoming Che Guevara. It’s as if Salles knows every facial twitch of nature and manipulates this to resonate with what’s happening to his characters. In one scene, Sal is hitchhiking on the back of a pickup truck; it’s sunset and the sky is an inferno, as red and blazing as the ember of his cigarette. It’s poignant because it captures that extraordinary moment before darkness and the last daring puffs before a cigarette dies, much like the eventual end of a journey like youth.
Simulation is also important to Salles. In one scene, Sal stumbles out of a club and into another sleepless night. The camera shifts to his drunken, wobbling perspective as his crazed friends come into view, and he launches into the book’s famous passage: “The only people for me are the mad ones…” It’s a visual approach that anyone who’s wished for a night never to end can appreciate. And it conveys the characters’ fast and high times so well.
During the Q&A, Salles discussed how important improvisation was in shooting. The scene where a cowboy the gang picks up sings a wistful ditty was improvised; Salles had seen the cowboy perform the song a couple days before, and the scene where Marylou cries as she hears him was shot in one take. Also improvised was the conversation Sal has with Old Bull Lee, an elder offbeat played by Viggo Mortensen. They talk about the erroneous translation of Parisian literature to English, which Mortensen felt was something Kerouac and Lee’s alter ego William S. Burroughs would have discussed.
“I wanted to find something new every day,” Salles says about his spur-of-the-moment approach to the film. He was inspired by Kerouac’s characters, who “found the future every single day.” Salles fed off their insatiable curiosity; they were sons and daughters of immigrants who couldn’t find themselves in society at the time. So they ditched the straight and narrow path, getting on the road to find out who they are.
That stayed with me. I was in New York because I’d stopped learning in Manila. I felt I hadn’t earned my easy lifestyle there, and I was tired of sitting around and talking about “doing something.” Two years ago, I left to go to school in New York, but more to school myself on living alone and independently. This city made sense for this purpose. It’s the mecca for people seeking newness.
I did find what I came here for: freedom from expectations, humility from being broke, all sorts of revelations of the self that I won’t bore anyone with. Now, home seems to be the new frontier I want to leave for. But of course, when I’m back, I know I’ll always wonder what life would be like if I were somewhere else.
On the Road reminded me that the desire to find something new never really dies. You can only hope to be like Sal, either changing things back whence you came, or changing your perspective on things.
But the contentment that eludes me, the travel that galvanizes—the two things Dean stood for—will haunt indefinitely. Wherever we end up, do we ever really stop thinking about Dean Moriarty?
•• The Grid, Adam Nayman: Rating 6/10
For a counterculture touchstone, Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, On the Road, is a pretty conservative piece of literature. Its lyrical, semi-autobiographical account of “boys and girls in America”—a phrase coined by its narrator and authorial stand-in, Sal Paradise, whose voyage of self-discovery across post–World War II America following his divorce serves as a connective tissue between its various episodes—makes being young, poor, and feckless sound like a sweaty, nude blast. That is, until the author reminds them (and us) that it’s all fun and games until somebody gets dysentery in Mexico City.
Walter Salles’s handsomely shot film adaptation is faithful to the book’s up-and-down structure. He bathes the early adventures of his road-tripping heroes in golden light and then gradually darkens the colour palette as life starts dealing them a series of reality checks. The performances are modulated accordingly: Sam Riley enacts aspiring writer Sal’s fall from innocence into experience mostly by limiting his facial expressions, while Garrett Hedlund’s Dean Moriarty—the charming, semi-cultured hustler who draws would-be wild ones to him like moths to a flame—is similarly drained of character down the stretch.
Interestingly, in this very male-centric and at times overtly homoerotic story, the most vivid character is female—Kristen Stewart’s Marylou, who is Dean’s on-and-off girlfriend and the reluctant object of Sal’s desire. Playing a young woman who relishes her sexual power over men yet increasingly feels as if she’s simply being (literally) dragged along for the ride, Stewart delivers an intense, deeply felt performance—one that will hopefully help to put Twilight safely in her rear-view mirror.
•• National Post, Jay Stone: The Beat Generation — those hep cats of the 1950s who brought drugs, jazz and notions of existential freedom to the great grey postwar conversation — was defined by Jack Kerouac’s 1951 novel On the Road. It told the story of Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s nom de cool) and his wild friends as they crisscrossed America in their beat-up cars, having sex, smoking marijuana and being existential.
Much like Ernest Hemingway defined the Lost Generation in the impotent antihero Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, so Kerouac helped form the idea of the beatnik as a fusion of free verse, free love and free thoroughfares to everywhere.
Walter Salles, the Brazilian director who previously hit the highway in the Che Guevara film The Motorcycle Diaries, has turned On the Road into a throbbing, achingly cool movie that captures the ethos of the new, godless America and exposes its essential emptiness. Sal and friends travel from New York to Denver and back to New York and off to San Francisco and over to New Orleans and back again, being wild and unmoored and jittery and free and, frankly, kind of boring.
Sam Riley stars as Sal, a restless young writer whose imagination is captured by “the mad ones, mad to live … who burn burn burn like Roman candles across the night.” The maddest, and the most incendiary, is Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), an energetic companion who roars across the early highways of America, all the while sporting the same white T-shirt.
Dean’s knockabout past, on railways or in car parks, makes him one of the great wanderers of American literature: Huckleberry Finn with a spliff. Based on the legendary Neal Cassady (who lived to become a 1960s icon as well), Dean throws himself into the life of sweaty jazz clubs, all-night drinking and girlfriends for every hour of the day. He’s a man on the move, manoeuvering his beat-up Hudson down American’s early blacktops, a man desperate for freedom from everything, including responsibility.
On the Road follows Sal and Dean on several trips, along with cohorts who come and go through the legends of the beatnik past and its iconic artifacts. Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), a stand-in for Allen Ginsberg, is a gay poet who falls in love with Dean, and is prone to having sex with anyone who interests him at the time — or, in some cases, who can enrich him.
At one stage they visit Bill Lee (Viggo Mortensen), an older hipster — and avatar for William Burroughs, author of the seminal Naked Lunch — who enters the story with random abandon and leaves just as abruptly, although not before making his mark as a precise, gun-happy eccentric who tries to purge himself of his discontent in an “orgone box,” a sort of Freudian outhouse that pays tribute (for those whose appetite for cultural history is unlimited) to psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. On the Road has been trimmed from a longer version, and the Lee episode dangles from the narrative limbs, barely connected.
You want to linger there, but like Kerouac — who wrote his manuscript in a fever on a long scroll that he taped together and rolled through his Underwood typewriter — On the Road keeps moving.
The energy is fuelled by alcohol, drugs and sexual experiment, especially as embodied by Marylou (Kristen Stewart), a teenager whom Dean marries and then shares with other men: Group sex is an act of brotherly affection in this company and Stewart brings a desperate eroticism to the role. For stability, there is also Camille (Kirsten Dunst), whom Dean also marries and impregnates and then leaves and then returns to, and whose suffering is just one of those things that happens on the lost and winding journey.
It all pulses to a bebop beat of sepia streetscapes in which Salles evokes the pent-up energy of a country on the cusp: of poetry, of youth, of emptiness, of exhaustion. It’s fitting that On the Road belongs to Hedlund, whose Dean provides the movie’s thrumming heartbeat.
He’s a man in full-throttle pursuit of ruination, and he comes to it with an overflowing heart and no plans at all. “That’s not writing, it’s typing,” Truman Capote famously said about Kerouac’s book, and the film perfectly evokes that mood of meaningless hip.
•• The Globe and Mail, Rick Groen: Rating 2/4
Even now, to read that on the page is to feel something of the raw jolt – the pulsing, electric, speed-freak energy – of Kerouac’s Beat prose. Yet to hear it, or versions thereof, coming out of an actor’s mouth is a whole other kettle of Benzedrine. Turns out the book is unadaptable. Kerouac himself thought otherwise (he wanted Brando in the film version), but Kerouac was wrong. Ironically, a novel that’s a paean to unbridled freedom is a prisoner of its own medium and a slave to its intrinsic rhythms. Sorry, On the Road just doesn’t travel well.
Director Walter Salles, who knows a thing or two about picaresque journeys – in The MotorcycleDiaries, even in Central Station – does make an honest effort here.
Yet it’s soon obvious that his film is everything the book isn’t – notably, faithful and earnest. So a pretty cast teams with the pretty cinematography on an episodic ramble that comes to seem pretty pointless. En route, there are a few hot spots to savour – a sultry imbroglio, a jazzy fandango, a simmering cameo – but too much of the rest is rather tepid, a trip that just isn’t trippy enough.
Part of the problem is the principal casting. Of course, Dean Moriarty – the roman a clef’s version of Neal Cassady – is the spark plug of the piece, the wild lover of life and drugs and women and sometimes men and always the beckoning spaces of the open road. He’s the tiger in the tank, but Garrett Hedlund, all fresh-faced boyishness, robs him of his claws. Gone is the guy’s danger, and with it any credible depiction of the hard toll that unharnessed freedom inevitably exacts.
Kerouac’s alter-ego, Sal Paradise, hardly fares better at the hands of Sam Riley. As the gang drives across post-war America, from New York though the Midwest to Salinas to ‘Frisco to New Orleans and back, Riley reduces Sal to little more than the court stenographer, just along for the ride to soak up the writerly juice. Now and then, on cue, we see him scribbling the notes that would eventually make their way onto the novel’s famously long scroll, but it’s a gimmicky sight that seems only to validate Truman Capote’s bitchy put-down of Kerouac: “That’s not writing, it’s typewriting.”
Strangely, the women, who tend to be treated as excess baggage in the book, come out swinging on screen, especially Kristen Stewart and her naked (often literally) approach to Marylou. Whether gyrating to Salt Peanuts, puffing on a reefer or triangulating a threesome on the Ford’s front seat, Stewart gives her the rough poetry that Dean should have but lacks. In fact, there’s so much fatale in her femme that it blurs the ostensible focus on the men, and threatens to throw the movie’s balance out of whack. Hey, forget Jack, I want to read her novel.
Of those men, all the Beat icons, only Viggo Mortensen’s William Burroughs makes a strong impression, albeit only fleetingly in a brief cameo. Unlike the others, Burroughs is a stay-at-home fellow at this point, but what a home (a crumbling abode in the Louisiana bayou) and what a fellow (by turns brilliantly incisive and demonstrably unhinged). Again, the balance inadvertently shifts – we’d rather forego the highway to stick with William and his William Tell act.
Elsewhere, Kirsten Dunst is given the impossible role of Dean’s hectoring wife, a drudge with the off-Beat idea that a father should actually take some responsibility for his children. Nevertheless, we have good reason to thank her when, among all the surrogates on this forgettable journey, she becomes ours with this pithy remark: “No more road for me.” Dig it, man.
•• Just Press Play, Richard Procter: On The Road can best be likened to one of the highways and byways traversed by the characters in the movie: long, meandering, occasionally hazardous, long, full of interesting sights and sounds, and long.
Fortunately it’s not the interminable sort of long one encounters in a movie like The Master or 30 Minutes or Less, in which you’re hoping, begging for the projector to break or there to be a fire or an asteroid that strikes the theater, anything to save you from seeing the rest of the movie. Watching Sal Paradise and his pals bounce from place to place across the United States, you are just occasionally struck by the thought “Wait, is this actually going anywhere?”
Evidently I’m not the only person to think the film was a bit long: it premiered at 137 minutes, and has subsequently been cut down to 124.
The movie is about the love story between Sal and Dean. It’s not obvious at first because Dean is in love with Mary Lou (and then just everything else that moves), but eventually Dean moves past the sex and you can see in Sal’s eyes that Dean is really the most important thing to him, although not in a sexual or romantic way. Rather, his interest in Dean stems from his need to write, and Dean certainly comes up big in the inspiration department. Dean is the center of a hurricane of chaos, changing everything around him. Essentially every character in the movie interacts either directly or indirectly because of Dean. Garrett Hedlund was a brilliant casting choice and delivers with a fantastic performance; he needs to be the most charismatic and charming person on the screen at all times and he is. Even when Dean fucks up or does something shitty (spoilers: this happens a lot), you aren’t mad at him so much as disappointed because you want to be his friend and he’s making it hard for you to feel good about him when he’s being a shit.
Kristen Stewart has a prominent role in the movie relative to characters that aren’t Sal or Dean, and does a good enough job that you wish she was in it more. There are flashes of good acting, but she doesn’t have enough lines and a lot of her screen time seems is as a sexpot, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but neither is it exactly taxing. One exits the movie wishing there had been more K-Stew.
Meanwhile, On The Road features just the right amount of Kirsten Dunst, who plays Camille, another romantic interest of Dean’s, which is to say not too much and not too little. Dunst is one of several relatively major actors to play a smaller role in the film (others include Viggo Mortensen, Terrence Howard, and a delightfully crazy Amy Adams). Having major actors play minor roles has the effect of boosting the audience’s interest in new scenes and locales in a long, directionless film, which is a smart move on the part of the filmmakers.
The movie has several funny moments in it; not having read the book, I’m not sure whether to praise Jack Kerouac or the screenwriter (Jose Rivera), but rest assured, they’re there. I will also add that even if Kerouac wrote them originally, several (including one with a trucker and another involving Sal’s mother and a traffic cop) are greatly enhanced due to the editing of the film (which enhances the timing). There aren’t quite enough to balance out the melodramatic moments, sadly, but it’s better than not having them at all.
If you have some time to kill and do not get impatient with movies, you will probably enjoy On The Road. If an ensemble cast, mostly good acting, and pretty cinematography aren’t going to cut it for you, stay away. Not that it would be hard, since it’s in limited release just about everywhere, but still.
•• Roger Ebert: Rating 2/4
Although Jack Kerouac's “On the Road” has been praised as a milestone in American literature, this film version brings into question how much of a story it really offers. Kerouac's hero, Sal Paradise, becomes transfixed by the rambling outlaw vision of a charismatic car thief, Dean Moriarity, and joins him in a series of journeys from his mother's apartment in Ozone Park, N.Y., as they crisscross the continent to Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and then back again, until it occurs to Dean “I've never been south.” They turn to Mexico, finding in its long, straight cactus-lined roads, some secret to themselves. They also find marijuana; the two may not be unrelated.
These journeys also yield forth booze, women and jazz — which contain their own secrets, but not simply through the searching for them. Along the way, Dean seeks his dead father and exudes so much charisma that the real Dean, Neal Cassady, is said to be the inspiration for the Beat Generation. Published in 1957, “On the Road” grew not into a movement but into a brand; Kerouac was a frequent guest on talk shows, and the Beats made the cover of Life magazine — a group of Beats seen sitting on a floor next to an LP player, wearing black turtlenecks, dark glasses and a look of intense cool. Compared to the Lost Generation and the Me Generation, the Beats were thin tea.
As a teenager, I snatched up the book in its first paperback edition and chose it above any other to display on my desk at the News-Gazette, sometimes underlining trenchant passages. Still in high school, I slipped away to the Turk's Head, a campus coffee shop, which played Miles Davis and Monk, and Beats were rumored by the townspeople to stand on the tables and recite their poetry, although table-standing seems to run counter to the Beat ethos.
My friends and I, newly in possession of our first $450 cars, talked idly of pointing them west and not stopping until we reached the Pacific. Whether this mission matched Mark Twain's “lighting out for the territory,” you may decide.
The Brazilian director Walter Salles is drawn to the notion of young men on epic journeys of self-discovery; his “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) involved Che Guevara on a tour of South America that shaped his ideas of South America. In “On the Road,” Kerouac (the British actor Sam Riley) is more interested in how he was shaped by Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund).
Dean in this movie is a rumpled, laconic young man whose fascination for Sal was his inclination to boost cars and set off on journeys to the horizon in search of girls. The girls would be wise to hide when they see these boys coming. Kerouac's wife, Carolyn (known as Camille here and well played by Kirsten Dunst), is given a scene not long after their child is born. “Dean and I are going out,” Sal tells her. “Want to come along?” “No,” she says, “I'll stay and look after baby.”
Having a second thought on his way out, he pokes his head back through he door: “ At least I asked if you wanted to go.” She fixes him with a Kirsten Dunst glare and says, “I know the look on your face. You're sick of me and you're sick of the baby. Do you realize how much I've given up for you?” No, he doesn't. Is his bond with Sal homosexual at its core? The film itself remains ambiguous.
Their long distance trips become epic, mostly in an unimaginably big and sleek Hudson, later in a beat-up Cadillac, they pass vast empty landscapes, pick up hitchhikers, stop in roadside diners, and on the whole have about as much excitement in San Francisco as you'd expect a couple of broke out-of-towners to experience.
The film's last scene is the payoff we expect. Confronting his typewriter, Sal inserts one end of a very long roll of paper and starts to type: “I first met Dean…”
•• Boston.com, Ty Burr: This ‘Road’ does right by Kerouac
Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, “On the Road,” is regularly classified as “unfilmable,” and with good reason. How do you shoehorn a legendary stream-of-consciousness blurt — a work famously written on a 120-foot scroll, as though putting a fresh sheet of paper in the typewriter would just get in the way — into the confines of semi-conventional cinema? Maybe the best approach would be to forget about the Beats, set “On the Road” in the modern day, and shoot it on cellphones. Anything to reflect the Day-Glo immediacy of Kerouac’s prose.
Instead, we have Walter Salles’s “On the Road,” a straightforward and rather sane version of the events described in the book and, against all odds, a surprisingly effective movie. Salles is Brazilian — he made the 2004 Young Che Guevara movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” — and maybe that helps, since he’s reverential toward the Beats without treating Kerouac and company as rebel saints, the way we can. Stolid as this “On the Road” often is, it has an outsider’s eye for the beauties of America’s physical and emotional landscape, and it shares the reckless excitement of its young seekers while standing just far enough outside to see the damage they leave in their wake.
And the casting is very strong, especially Garrett Hedlund in the critical role of Dean Moriarty, a.k.a. Neal Cassady, the one character who lives what the others just write about. That’s not quite right: Dean can only live — skipping from city to city, apartment to apartment, woman to woman — while his friends have to turn it into art. That’s why they idolize him: Dean’s life is his art. Kerouac knew there’d be a price to pay for that, and if his book sees the downside of Being Dean with piercing romanticism, the movie just sees it clearly.
Anyway, Hedlund — last seen in “Tron: Legacy,” poor thing — is a tremendous Dean, confident, impulsive, sexy, rootless. Even his mistakes seem like great ideas at the time. (It helps if you’re a guy.) The others, also well cast, are lesser planets to his Sun: the Kerouac figure Sal Paradise, played by Sam Riley with a wolfish smile and wide eyes that see everything; Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg, burning up with the holy “Howl” still inside him; Viggo Mortensen floating briefly in as Old Bull Lee, as gravel-voiced and frightening as his inspiration, William S. Burroughs.
The movie follows the chronology of the book, omitting a lot but hitting the main points: Sal’s romance with the migrant worker Terry (Alice Braga), that creepy Louisiana visit with the oracular junkie Lee and his half-crazed wife (Amy Adams); the road trip to Mexico; the ceaseless triangulation between New York, San Francisco, and Denver. Salles gets the highs of the parties and jazz clubs — Terrence Howard turns up as a Charlie Parker-esque saxophonist — the eroticism and weirdness of sex scenes that can go any which way (and more explicitly than Kerouac managed). He also gets the lows of the mornings after and the bleak dawns on empty highways. And he understands that being true to oneself usually entails being false to someone else.
That’s where the women come in — or, more properly, don’t. If Kerouac acknowledged the problems inherent in being married to a Beat (total unreliability foremost among them), the movie dramatizes them with quiet force. As Dean’s second (I think) wife, Camille — a.k.a. Carolyn Cassady — Kirsten Dunst rides a roller coaster of hope and disappointment, pregnant and housebound with Dean’s infant daughter while he heads out to score weed and chicks. Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) breathes fire in her brief scene as Galatea Dunkel.
As Dean’s first (and third) wife, the teenage Marylou (Kerouac based her on LuAnne Henderson), Kristen Stewart is getting the lion’s share of the publicity for “On the Road,” and she gets a fair amount of screen time, too. It turns out to be one of the “Twilight” star’s better performances, well within her narrow range and touching in the way Marylou uses sex as rebellion, only gradually becoming aware of what it will and won’t give her. Usually a tense and sullen actress, Stewart unwinds here; she lets us see the character’s fearlessness, her naivete, and where the two connect.
What this “On the Road” isn’t, though, is truly crazy — wild with the thrill of casting off all restraint — and Kerouac himself would probably hate it for that. But Salles has made a movie with more wisdom in it than you might expect, and he hasn’t attempted the impossible task of trying to film the book. He just films what the book’s about, and it serves him well.
•• St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Joe Williams: 'On the Road' is a real joyride
Since 1957, Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” has been regarded as unfilmable — not just because it’s a plotless travelogue or because Kerouac’s speeding voice cannot be photographed but because the book and the real writers who inspired the characters have become such larger-than-life symbols.
Brazilian director Walter Salles, who demythologized the legendary Che Guevara in “The Motorcycle Diaries,” has taken a similar approach in his long-planned adaptation of “On the Road.” He has chucked the excess baggage of the Beat Generation’s social significance and pointed a sturdy sedan toward the beating heart of the novel: a bond between friends.
Because the main characters are named Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty — not Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady — the producers have shrewdly cast two relative unknowns in roles that were coveted by every Hollywood heartthrob under 40. British actor Sam Riley (“Control”) plays shy, aspiring writer Sal and Garrett Hedlund (“TRON: Legacy”) plays charismatic car thief Dean.
Conversely they are surrounded by several stars who shine new light on neglected characters, including the unexpectedly frisky Kristen Stewart as Marylou, the beatnik babe they both love. Kirsten Dunst is solid as Camille, the brainy young wife and mother whom restless Neal stashes in San Francisco to go gallivanting with Sal (and sometimes Marylou), and Viggo Mortensen is a scene stealer as Bull Lee, the pistol-packing, heroin-shooting curmudgeon based on St. Louis native William S. Burroughs.
Looming larger than these secondary characters is Carlo Marx (based on Allen Ginsberg, played by Tom Sturridge), whose reciprocated sexual love for Dean gives the story a modern-audience makeover, as do the several scenes of binging on drugs.
Because Kerouac and his cohorts predated the labeling of their lifestyle, Salles steers around the potholes of post-war iconography. Although there are bursts of bebop on the soundtrack (a highlight being a crazed dance to Dizzy Gillsepie’s “Salt Peanuts”), the world we see through the recessive Riley’s eyes is more meditative than celebratory. Except for a short-lived, sunny detour to Mexico, the road scenes are a combination of wide vistas and windshield shots, with muted colors and nary a neon sign in sight.
Notwithstanding the characters’ spiritual camaraderie, Salles’ emphasizes the hard physical labor and loneliness in Sal’s story, including the jittery rigors of the writing process. When he reaches a crossroads choice between down-and-out Dean and his own rising career, Sal senses that except for the words on a typewritten scroll, his life on the road is gone, real gone.
•• The Oregonian, Marc Mohan: Rating B-
Beat novel "On the Road" is bound to disappoint. Not only is the cross-country saga of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty imprinted on the minds of a generation, but their real-world inspirations are even more prominent in the cultural canon. That said, Brazilian director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") has commendably tackled this impossible task and turned out as decent a version of "On the Road" as we're likely to get.
British actor Sam Riley (best-known as doomed Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in "Control") is surprisingly convincing as the Sal/Jack amalgam, an aspiring writer who's coerced by new, freewheeling pal Dean (based on Neal Cassady and played by blandly hunky Garret Hedlund) into what's become postwar America's most famous road trip. Accompanied by Dean's unpredictable girlfriend Marylou (Kristen Stewart, as good as she's been), they visit meticulously crafted 1948 versions of Denver, San Francisco and New Orleans.
The latter city features a scene-stealing cameo by Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, a.k.a. William S. Burroughs, while Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Steve Buscemi and other familiar faces pop up, sometimes overshadowing the relative unknowns in the two lead roles. One challenge in filming "On the Road" today is communicating how genuinely groundbreaking it was when first published, and Salles does this in part by accentuating its sexual adventurousness.
He also gives the whole thing an infectious jazzy energy that counters some of the nostalgic drag on the film. We're in the midst of a big-screen Beat revival, with Kerouac's early ("Kill Your Darlings") and later ("Big Sur") days explored in upcoming films. Even if Salles' film can't possibly capture the impact of its source, it's intriguing enough to rate a place in the ever-expanding mythology of "the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live."
•• Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips: Rating 3/4
An eternal fountain of adolescence, Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" went through many permutations between its point of origin, 1948, and its point of notorious, divisive publication, 1957. The best description of it came from Kerouac himself, in a journal entry written after his first cross-country road trip in 1948. The book he had in mind, he said, was about "two guys hitchhiking to California in search of something they don't really find, and losing themselves on the road, and coming all the way back hopeful of something else." There's a simple beauty to that. The question is: How do you film an extended yearning? lRelated Who are the early Oscars 2014 favorites?
The greatest movies figure it out, visually and emotionally, and as it has been said, the noblest use of a movie camera is to capture the moment across a human face when a mind is being changed by something, or someone. The vagabonds of "On the Road" perpetually change their Benzedrine-addled minds about where to be, who they are, why they're alive. So while Kerouac's odyssey lacks conventional narrative or novelistic beats (though it comes with plenty of the other kind), the restlessness of the prose has its own cinematic allure.
For decades, filmmakers have tried to secure the screen rights and figure out how to make a satisfying picture out of Kerouac's postcards from the edge, the middle and the bottom of his nomadic experiences knocking around with drifter Neal Cassady; his young wife, LuAnne Henderson, hungry for whatever's around the bend; the dubious but colorful mentor William S. Burroughs; the poet and provocateur Allen Ginsberg; and other strays at odds with post-World War II America. (If only Freddie Quell of "The Master" had visited some of the same jazz clubs as these folks, his story would've turned out very differently.)
At one point Francis Ford Coppola urged Jean-Luc Godard to take on "On the Road." Other directors, including Gus Van Sant, came and went. And now, executive-produced by Coppola and produced with his son, Roman Coppola, we have a film version that has undergone its own permutations since premiering in May at the Cannes Film Festival, a film made by "Motorcycle Diaries" director Walter Salles.
Can an adaptation of an iconic yet allegedly unfilmable novel yield a failure and a success in one? I think so. Salles' answer to Kerouac's material, shaped by "Motorcycle Diaries" screenwriter and playwright Jose Rivera, is faithful, which is neither a virtue or a vice. It's long on atmosphere, alert to the shifting dynamics of the characters Kerouac created out of those he knew.
It's even longer on a creamy romantic vision of these careless, thoughtless, thoughtful romantics, running in circles in a circular story about people who never find what they seek. Kerouac called that one, back in '48. Often gorgeous, Salles' "On the Road" doesn't really work in dramatic terms. And yet it's worth seeing, to see how close — and, in flashes, how persuasively evocative — the director and his actors come to capturing the lightning in the bottle.
Sam Riley of "Control" plays the narrator, the Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise. Garrett Hedlund is the Cassady character, the Dionysian Dean Moriarty, whose squeeze LuAnne is played by Kristen Stewart. It's not a competition, I know, but she's the strongest and truest of the three, and this is probably her best screen work to date. Stewart and her fellow "On the Road" performer Kirsten Dunst (who plays the long-suffering mother of Cassady's children) were first approached by Salles for this project years ago, before the publicity-shy Stewart was even in theaters with her first "Twilight."
The most effective scene in "On the Road" stood out in the original, somewhat longer Cannes festival cut and remains the standout in the current, shorter version. It's New Year's Eve, 1949, and Stewart's and Hedlund's characters are bebopping like fiends on a makeshift dance floor to Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" in a New York City apartment. Here, atmosphere feeds character, and vice versa, and the party really does look like the greatest place to be at the midpoint of the 20th century. Salles and cinematographer Eric Gautier revel in the smoke, the heat and the blur of movement. They shot "On the Road" all over the place, in Canada, Argentina, Mexico and the U.S. But it's this cramped interior sequence that really sticks.
Riley has the leading role, and he's pretty good (though the English actor's American dialect for Sal is a little insistent). These observational characters, however, tend to voice-over a lot, and while it's the logical way to go with a book written from this character's perspective, Sal never springs to life. What's missing from the script, chiefly, is a kind of toughness. It's a lovely film in many ways. It's also soft. And half the time, approximately, Salles' brand of romanticism works.
Contrary to the general notion that you fall in love with Kerouac's "On the Road" at a young age or not at all, I tried, twice, to enter the novel, once in my teens, again in my early 20s, and couldn't get the hang of it. I had all the squaresville reactions: Too messy, too indulgent, too repetitive. Then I read it a year ago, in preparation for the world premiere of the film, and the insane momentum of the thing worked for me. I wish the film had more of it: The current, abridged cut plays like a highlights reel, without much breathing room between refills and reckonings. But Salles and his actors, particularly Stewart, find a kind of fluid motion and freedom that periodically makes "On the Road" make sense and makes it feel alive. Amy Adams, Terrence Howard and others come and go as various characters encountered on that road, along with Viggo Mortensen as the Burroughs-derived guru with the guns and the rather loose notion of parenting. He's very funny; the film, to a fault, is essentially dead serious.
Call it a successful failure. Some movies worth seeing are like that.
•• Boston Herald, ‘Road’ doesn’t miss a Beat: Rating B+
Certainly the sexiest road movie in quite a while, “On the Road” is Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles’ take on the Lowell-born Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, a Beat Generation sacred text and bebop memoir of sex, drugs, poetry, jazz and blues. Truman Capote famously remarked of Kerouac’s work, which is idolized by many, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
•• StarTribune, Colin Covert: It took more than half a century, but Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical cult novel of bohemian youth in postwar America has reached the screen in wonderful form.
Brazilian director Walter Salles and Puerto Rican screenwriter Jose Rivera, the team behind 2004’s brilliant road movie “The Motorcycle Diaries,” build a lyrical mood here. Their film is faithful to the spirit of Kerouac’s phantasmagoric prose, creating an elegy to the Eisenhower-era rebels who rejected smothering conformity to seek elusive transcendent truth and freedom.
From the idyll’s exhilarating start to its lamentable dead end, the film carries us along for an unforgettable ride. Kerouac’s hallmark is an elliptical storytelling style requiring an active audience. Salles’ film, while not quite a puzzle, is full of gaps and undercurrents. Like the source novel, it rambles but is never incoherent.
Salles trusts the audience to put everything together, just as the story’s characters must do. At the center of the swirl is narrator and Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise (English actor Sam Riley). Sal is a would-be writer living with his mother, seeking a father figure, and under the sway of his disreputable new friend Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) based on notorious free spirit Neal Cassady. Sal is fascinated by the charismatic, garrulous roustabout, who seems to know every key member of the Beat Generation, and every backwoods gas station with an unguarded food shelf and fuel pump.
Sal becomes Dean’s literary tutor while Dean introduces shy Sal to sex, drugs and bebop. Sal recognizes that his slippery friend’s a “con man” while overestimating how long that character trait might remain entertaining. They fly across the nation’s back roads like visionary nomads, with Dean’s impulsive energy counterbalancing Sal’s need to withdraw and observe.
Dean treats the women in his life poorly, bouncing between his neglected wife, Camille (Kirsten Dunst), and his brazen teenage lover, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), reflecting the second-class status of women even among the era’s counterculture. A creature of untrammeled libido, Dean also makes time for lovestruck poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge, playing the fictional version of Allen Ginsberg) and an occasional male trick. Their travels bring them into contact with plenty of squares and drug-addled mentor Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen, doing a wicked impression of the mad novelist William S. Burroughs).
Eric Gautier’s camerawork captures the film’s smoky interiors and wide open spaces with hallucinogenic beauty. The film vividly renders jazz-club hedonism and the eventual hangovers. When Sal and Dean come to their inevitable parting on the streets of Manhattan, the scene is genuinely painful. Sal, who has written a novel based on the experiences Dean provided, is smartly dressed and off to see Duke Ellington with some upstanding new friends. Dean, shivering and shabby, approaches from the shadows to say hello, but is rebuffed like a panhandler. The brilliance of Riley’s and Hedlund’s performances is that the amount of pain in each actor’s eyes is about the same.
There’s probably no substitute for reading “On the Road’s” incandescent prose. But this filmed interpretation is a very fine version all on its own.
•• Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Barry Paris: Rating 3,5/4
Ponder this pontifical pronouncement: In the history of cinema, only three of a thousand great-books-on-film can be called perfect -- "Gone With the Wind," "Slaughterhouse Five" and "The Godfather."
We pity as well as admire the serious director who sets out to turn a literary landmark into a movie. Walter Salles is such a helmsman, Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" is such a book, and the resulting picture is not such a fourth miracle of perfection. But it's remarkably successful in the attempt.
Kerouac's 1957 Beat Generation classic is the coming-of-age, becoming-of-writer tale of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley). Sal's life and art are electrified by his wildly free-spirited pal Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) -- and Dean's girl Marylou (Kristen Stewart) -- during their booze-and-drug-fueled odyssey across America in a guzzling gas-fueled Hudson.
It took a brilliant Brazilian to finally film this quintessentially American story. Mr. Salles' terrific "Central Station" (1998) and Che Guevara biopic "Motorcycle Diaries" (2004) were his warm-up acts. Here, with Jose Rivera's thoughtful screenplay, he translates Kerouac's ultimate road trip into a road movie that alternates Benzedrine and be-bop with moody contemplative moments -- a rebellious pilgrims' progress from Sal's Ozone Park, N.J. [Queens?] home to Harlem's jazz clubs, to Denver and San Francisco and beyond, in perpetual-motion overindulgence.
"The only people for me are the mad ones," says Kerouac, through Sam, " -- the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn!"
Dean (the fictional version of Kerouac's real-life friend Neal Cassady) is Sam's incendiary instigator-inspiration. Marylou (the real-life LuAnne Henderson) is the used and abused object of their misogyny -- or a liberated woman ahead of her time? Either way, the three of them seize every moment to burn the candle at both ends and the middle, too, with 24/7 hedonism, stealing food and gas ("Like President Truman says, 'We have to cut down on the cost of living!' "), in the radical freedom of a revolution they don't really know or intend to make.
Mr. Riley -- a Leo DiCaprio lookalike -- is quite good as the ingenuous Sam. Ms. Stewart of "Twilight" fame (and striking debut in Sean Penn's "Into the Wild") is a perfect Marylou, kicking up her heels and the film's sex quotient in numerous hot two- and three-way love scenes. Nobody worried about STDs in those days: At one point, Sal and Dean take on the whole Best Little Whorehouse in Mexico.
(Which reminds me to remind you not to take Aunt Thelmah to this movie.)
Kirsten Dunst is excellent as Dean's long-suffering wife, Camille, and Viggo Mortensen is superb as "Bull Lee" -- the real-life William S. Burroughs character. So is Tom Sturridge as "Carlo Marx" -- the Allen Ginsberg of the piece. "Are you being honest with me from the bottom of your soul?" he says, emerging ever more aggressively from his homosexual closet. Steve Buscemi does a wonderfully perverse cameo as a similarly inclined traveling salesman.
The problematic casting is of Mr. Hedlund as Dean, the chick magnet and sex machine. He has a million-dollar smile and he's an extremely hot dancer. On Kerouac's printed page, Dean can hardly speak fast enough to get his erotic stream-of-consciousness thoughts out. But Mr. Hedlund's laconic drawl lacks charisma. If you see the film without having read the book, you may wonder why Sal finds him so mesmerizing.
On the other hand, Gustavo Santaolalla's bongo-based musical punctuation is faultless, as is Eric Gautier's cinematography.
Kerouac's original manuscript was famously written not on separate pages but on one huge taped-together scroll -- a single paragraph, 120 feet long! -- and published only after many rejections and much censoring of its sex passages. The paradoxically Catholic, anti-Communist author, who died of alcoholism at 47, always wanted Marlon Brando to play Dean in the (hoped-for) film version.
This film version feels less exuberant than the book, slowed down and muted to emphasize the loneliness and melodramatic pain more than the wild excitements of the road. Still, it's a worthy rendering of its be-bop bohemian -- dissipated yet strangely innocent -- heroes. Serious and respectful.
A little too serious, a little too respectful.
•• The Film Yap, Christopher Lloyd: Rating 4/5
I’m not quite sure how to judge “On the Road.” If it existed on its own as a film, separated from any notion of the seminal Jack Kerouac book, I’d probably dismiss it as rambling and unfocused. But since the Bible of the Beats is defined by its poetic embrace of chaos — both in life and literary endeavors — to knock it for its quivery plot would be like criticizing a flamingo for being too pink.
Brazilian director Walter Salles and Puerto Rican screenwriter Jose Rivera previously teamed up for “The Motorcycle Diaries,” a similar project about young men rambling about the countryside looking for themselves, also based on a book by a person of note (in that case, revolutionary Che Guevara). Since “On the Road” has generally been regarded as unfilmable, perhaps it required a foreign perspective to adequately capture the peculiar rhythms of this quintessential, quirky American tale.
Certainly “On the Road” has verve and gutso. In chronicling the on-again, off-again travels of Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and his best friend/muse Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) during the late 1940s, the actors and filmmakers have probably made as good a translation of the book as possible.
It’s a booze-soaked, drug-riddled, sex-filled escapade with no real point other than casting off whatever yokes chain them and seeing what’s out there. It captures the pure exhilaration of freedom for its own sake.
Some portions of Kerouac’s narrative are skimmed over or eliminated, while others are pumped up — particularly those involving Dean’s teenage wife (soon to be ex-wife) Marylou, played by “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart. Stewart has a vibrant, erotic presence as a wanton girl who enjoys her escapades with Dean — including three-ways in bed with some of his friends — even as she knows it must all come to a crashing end, with her grasping the stick’s short end.
One scene, where Marylou and Dean are shaking it to a raucous jazz song as others look on, is scorching hot. Stewart’s small but steamy role should do much to banish her adolescent image.
Much of the heart of the book dealt with Sal idolizing Dean as a sort of vagabond holy man, a con artist and liar who nonetheless embraced the concept of living in the moment, and inspired others to do the same. Dean is a car thief, treats women as disposable objects and leeches off his friends, but others are drawn to his audacious individuality.
Hedlund is terrific as Dean, the distilled essence of American manhood, especially his use of his voice to command and compel those around him. Riley is also good in the less showy role of the introspective writer and chronicler of the group. Tom Sturridge has an abbreviated but effective turn as Carlo Marx, a self-destructive poet who struggles with his homoerotic fixation toward Dean, which Dean uses to tease and taunt.
Viggo Mortensen turns up as Old Bull Lee, an older writer and heroin addict who acts as a mentor and father figure to Sal. It’s notable that he is the one person who is instinctively disdainful of Dean’s flights of fancy, recognizing them as more narcissism than revelation.
Kirsten Dunst plays Camille, Dean’s much put-upon second wife; Amy Adams is Lee’s mentally fractured wife; Alice Braga is an itinerant love of Sal’s; and Elisabeth Moss and Danny Morgan play a recently married couple sundered by Dean’s need to always be on the move.
Kerouac lovers probably know that the book “On the Road” was written in long, frenetic sessions using rolls of paper so he wouldn’t have to stop typing. The movie erratically but vividly captures that freewheeling sense of losing oneself — in the act of creation, or consumption, and even self-destruction.
•• Madison Movie, Rob Thomas: Who would dare try to make a movie out of “On the Road”? How could you not, in the eyes of the many faithful followers of Jack Kerouac’s counterculture epic, not screw it up? This is an autobiographical book about which not only the events it’s based on have been mythologized, but the writing of the book itself is the stuff of legend. Kerouac famously blurted out “On the Road” in a three-week literary bender, taping the pages into one long scroll so he could write in one uninterrupted explosion.
Yet if anybody dare attempt it, it would be director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera, whose 2004 film “The Motorcycle Diaries,” featuring a young Che Guevara, traveled the same highways as Kerouac’s mix of free-wheeling travelogue and consciousness awakening. They haven’t made a film version of “On the Road,” because that would be impossible, but they’ve made a film for “On the Road” fans.
British actor Sam Riley plays Kerouac’s fictional avatar, Sal Paradise, who in the free-wheeling haze of post-war America drifts into the orbit of Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), who, in Kerouac’s memorable phrase, spend “a third of his life in the pool hall, a third of his life in jail, and a third of his life in the public library.” A two-fisted philosopher-drunk, Dean drapes an arm around Sal and takes him on a nonstop adventure — jazz clubs, poppers, wild parties and above all else, the open road. With Dean’s child bride Marylou (Kristen Stewart) in tow, the film cruises back and forth across the country, its essential fuel Kerouac’s words, delivered by Riley in a convincing imitation. It’s all episodic, with characters drifting in and out of the film without explanation, including Tom Sturridge in what looks like a Ginsberg knockoff, and Viggo Mortensen as a stone-cold William S. Burroughs imitation.
Hedlund is good as Dean, although I think the part works better if you think of him as Kerouac’s reminiscence of Dean (or Neal Cassady, actually) rather than a fully-dimensional person. Dean in the archetype Sam aspires to be, living fully in the moment. But that comes at a cost to everyone around him, including the women — Marylou, Camille (Kirsten Dunst), the mother of his child, and assorted women along the way. The film doesn’t judge, which I think I mistook for acquiescence until “On the Road” kept going, and Dean gradually, and finally, finds himself isolated from the world. The last meeting between Dean and Sal, now married and prosperous, is a heartbreaker. Dean got what he wanted from Sal, Sal got what he wanted from Dean, and the two men go on their way.
Surprisingly, but perhaps wisely, Salles doesn’t try to recreate the heady stream-of-conscious rush of reading “On the Road.” Instead, it’s staged as a rather traditional road picture, with title cards telling us what state we’re driving through, or what the month and year are. Which seems a little odd for a book that was originally written not only without chapter headings, but without even paragraph indentations. There’s something just a little too tidy about it (even the film’s fever dream, brought on by Sam’s bout with dysentery, is an awfully tidy fever dream), especially because there’s no real story to follow here, only encounters and images. But it gives the viewer time and space to really savor those moments, brought to life with Eric Gautier’s gorgeous camerawork, taking us out in the middle of the desert or deep inside the tangled bodies of a Manhattan house party.
The beauty of the images gives “On the Road” a touch of nostalgia, for a long-lost Beat Generation that felt it could change the world, or at least abstain from it. The movie version of “On the Road” won’t have the impact on a person that the book ever did. But it does go some way to explaining why the book did.
•• John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier, Dan Mackay: Road movie is overdue, but well worth the wait.
IT was a project, according to media industry jargon, that had become a "development hell", lying lost in limbo for many years.
Various film producers had tried to buy the film rights of On The Road, the generation-defining novel, but it was not until 1979 before Francis Ford Coppola secured the deal. An innovative and influential film director, he seemed like the ideal man for the job.
High-profile actors like Marlon Brando, Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt had been variously lined up to play the lead roles. But nothing had ever come of it. And the challenge even frustrated the movie-maker who brought us epics like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.
The New York Times had originally described Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel as "the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as "beat" and whose principal avatar he is".
Other critics saw it as a "rallying cry for the elusive spirit of rebellion of these times."
So why the film delay?
After all, the book charts Kerouac’s chaotic life on the road with his charismatic fellow prankster Neal Cassady (although in the novel the characters are introduced as Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, respectively). A post-war novel describing early experimentation with drugs and liberal expressions of sexual freedom, one would have imagined the unorthodox benzedrine-fuelled Bohemian lifestyles of the central characters would have made ideal material for a road movie...
In the years after the war the young Kerouac was an aspiring but struggling writer. He saw himself, in his own words, as a "strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic". Indeed, he conceived On The Road as some sort of spiritual quest novel – a sort of latter day Pilgrim’s Progress.
But those who read his opus wanted to concentrate on the sex, the drugs, the beat music and the wild adventures on the road. (Perhaps the heavy editing by Kerouac’s publishers, Viking Press, had done a disservice to the novel’s original vision...)
Where both the book and the film are enthralling is in their depictions of Dean Moriarty, the central character. Charismatic, chaotic, seductive, intense – he is all of these things. He’s also a self–centred con man who lies and rats on his friends.
Why the film was never made years ago, we’ll never know! But although just released in the US in December 2012, I think it could be argued that it spawned – or rather the book did – a generation of road movies which introduced us to the idea of getting out there on the open road looking for adventure, in the hope of meeting all sorts of weird and wonderful characters and, ultimately, discovering all sorts of meaning about life and ourselves along the way.
So we should be grateful that it was left to the Brazilian film-maker Walter Salles to bring the project to fruition. He really was the ideal man for the job having previously directed The Motorcycle Diaries – a biopic based on the memoirs of the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
"The only people who interested me were the mad ones" Kerouac had written. "Mad to live, mad to talk – those who burned like Roman candles in the night"... So brace yourself for an unforgettable journey! One the blurb tells us is "a wild and sexy trip".
Place names roll by in front of you: Dawson County, Nebraska; Des Moines; Selma California; Flomaton, Alabama; Algiers, Louisiana... We are introduced to a whole host of colourful characters: white trash, black jazz players, loose women, mambo – you name it! (Kerouac later claimed that his seven years life on the road took just three weeks to type up. Doubtless assisted by the fact he was an obsessive "spontaneous prose" journal writer).
Though critically received, some reviewers have been mixed in their opinions. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian felt that the film was a "good-looking but directionless and self-adoring road movie."
Time magazine’s Richard Corliss noted that although there was a background of cool jazz "the movie lacks the novel’s exuberant syncopation".
For all that, it has lots of entertainment value. Hitchhikers describe Moriarty as "a devil with a car and a devil with women." Certainly one of his buddy’s girlfriends thought: "Dean drives like Satan. And the sooner he’s dead, the better!"
On The Road has everything you’d expect of a road movie. Fascinating characters, alternative lifestyles and the spirit of adventure.
It represents a period of American history when the beat generation characterised an anti-conformist youth movement that rejected the prevailing materialistic societal-norms. Far from feeling down-trodden, they remained buoyant and ‘upbeat.’
With some captivating performances by Garrett Hedlund (Dean Moriarty), Sam Riley (Sal Paradise), Kristen Stewart (Marylou), ably assisted by Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen, what’s not to like?
•• Los Angeles Daily News, Rob Lowman: The Brazilian director Walter Salles' ("The Motorcycle Diaries") adaptation of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" is a valiant -- if not entirely successful -- attempt to capture the energy and drug-inspired prose of the classic 1957 novel.
It follows Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), Kerouac's alter ego, during the advent of the Beat Generation as he travels the country and into Mexico. If you don't know the plot, read the book or see this movie.
Garrett Hedlund is excellent as Dean Moriarty, aka Neal Cassady, while Kristen Stewart reminds us once again what a talent she is, which some people seemed to forget during the hype of the "Twilight" films. Here, she burns with passion while showing real vulnerability as Dean's child bride. Too bad more of her fans didn't see her in the role.
+ James Gandolfini on Kristen in 'On the Road'
+ James Franco reviewing the movie
+ Entertainment reporters Ben Lyons and Josh Horowitz reviewing the movie