Dir: Walter Salles
Stars: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst
We seem to be in the middle of a spate of famous book-to-film adaptations at the moment. The two which cause me the most anxiety are undoubtedly The Great Gatsby 3D (shudder) and On the Road. However, it’s reassuring that a director of such a high calibre as Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station) is taking on this iconic Jack Kerouac novel.
When struggling writer Sal Paradise (Riley) meets Dean Moriarty (Hedlund) he instantly becomes intoxicated with his energy and hedonism; Sal begins to yearn for the open road. After travelling to Denver he hooks up with Dean and his new bride Marylou (Stewart) and their adventures begin. Sal travels around America encountering a diverse mixture of people who act as catalysts for his writing.
Walter Salles carries on where he left off in The Motorcycle Diaries with On the Road having both the look and feel of his most famous film. Taking on a book that has historically been thought of as unfilmable is a daunting task, but instead of trying to re-assemble the narrative to fit into the big screen format, he’s decided to let it follow the novel’s rambling nature. I’ve seen several reviews which lambast the film for this. Yes, it is rambling. Yes it is episodic, but then so is the book. The main criticism you could probably throw at the film is that it feels too long (and it has already been cut since its premiere at Cannes).
On the Road flows like free-form jazz number, making it a sprawling and sometimes unbalanced watch. Mirroring the frequent drug-use throughout the film, the character’s lives of the characters are filled with high and lows. The style fits in with the youthful hedonism of the post-war era in America, which is beautifully embodied by Hedlund’s depiction of Dean; instantly likeable and adored, whilst simultaneously deeply reckless and thoughtless. People are attracted to him, if merely to bask in his glow. Unfortunately for Dean, whilst Sal and others feel the pull of domesticity, this is the only way of living he knows.
Salles reverts to an early draft by Kerouac where the story began after his death of Sal’s father. The father/son relationship is one of the driving forces within the movie. Whilst Dean struggles to play a responsible role in his children’s life, his obsession to find his father gradually becomes all-consuming. Both Marylou and the downtrodden Camille (Dunst) love him but cannot live with his errant ways. The performances are superb all round, with some nice turns from Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Alice Braga & Amy Adams.
Experiencing On the Road feels like a journey in itself; making you long for the open road.
For screening times visit http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/ontheroad