On The Road – Film Review

Directed by Walter Salles and based on Jack Kerouac’s highly acclaimed 1957 novel of the same name, On The Road tells the largely autobiographical tale of author Kerouac’s spontaneous road trips with his friends across mid-century America in the 1940′s. Not using any real names in the film, Kerouac is named Sal Paradise and is played by Sam Riley, whilst his travelling companions Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg are named Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) respectively. The trio encounter a mix of people on their journey, including both of Cassady’s wives, Lu Anne Henderson who is named Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Carolyn who is named Camille (Kirsten Dunst), as well as Kerouac’s friend William S. Burroughs who is named Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Joan Vollmer who is named Jane (Amy Adams). With Kerouac’s novel considered a defining work of the postwar Beat Generation, the trio’s journeys are full of jazz, sex, drugs, and plenty more sex, as their lives are impacted in very different ways.

Yet to read the novel it is based on (It’s on my shelf, I’ll get to it soon!), this was one of my most anticipated films of this year. Whilst it didn’t fully meet my expectations, On The Road excels in a large part because of its stunning cinematography. Set for the most part, as its title suggests, on the road, and with a cast of attractive actors, beautiful scenery, brilliant periodic reconstructions, and an upbeat jazz soundtrack, the whole feel of the film is fantastic.

Too unfamiliar with its original source to comment fully at this point, the adaptation, however, undeniably feels a little empty in places, but it’s an emptiness that was obviously hard to fill in its transition from page to screen, explaining the many reservations people have had about an adaptation working at all. Still, the pace of the film works really well and whilst it’s just over two hours long, it never slows down and is constantly full of spirit. This constant control in Salles’ directing makes it an easy film to engage with, ensuring that it’s an adventure that you can enjoy to go along with as the urge to explore, experience and to find ones self shines above all else.

As far as I can comment I found that the casting worked really well too. The lead males have a strong, and very homoerotic, chemistry, and each give strong performances throughout. Again, without reading the novel I don’t know the full details of Kerouac’s mind, but it was easy to see the conflicts going on in Riley’s character – his disapproval of certain behaviours, his feelings towards Marylou, and above all his determination. I also really enjoyed Sturridge’s performance and felt that the role really suited him, but it’s Hedlund who has been getting all the appraisal. As the ‘wild one’ with no consideration of any consequences, it is Hedlund’s character that we are able to form an opinion about most, and because of this it is Hedlund’s performance that stands out. It’s easy to both love and hate his character, and by the end even pity him, as it is his role that we, as with the other characters in the film, are drawn into.

As for Stewart, who I am a fan of anyway, I felt that she really did give something more than the expressionless performance many often criticise her for. Far from being dull, her on-screen time wasn’t much but she was part of a number of interesting scenes (Yes, I mean that one where she went ‘skiing’). She may not always fill her scenes with pizzaz, and I don’t think it was enough to sway people on her acting abilities here, but it was another well-fitting role, as her exploitable naivety complimented the film well. The supporting cast was also very strong, with Dunst, Mortensen, and Adams each bringing something to the film, but it was Steve Buscemi‘s role that I couldn’t place. In a role that any unknown actor could have played, with Buscemi in the role I found his one main scene quite uncomfortable, but then again maybe that was the point.

If for nothing else, this film has inspired me to go travelling. The search for freedom still remains an important theme in the adaptation, but whilst I save up some money and plan my own journey, I’m going to go read the book and then I will make a better and more educated comparison review.

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