Review: On The Road
I've never read On The Road and I admit that without a trace of shame. When I was of the appropriate age to do so – dole drifting, work-shy and full of a sense of artistic entitlement that only a UB40 can instil – Jack Kerouac already seemed like an ancient scribe
Still, from the vantage of ignorance, let me say that this comes across as a very honest and accurate adaptation – it looks and feels like what you'd expect of an On The Road film, and it's a little bit dull and irrelevant.
A film of Kerouac's autobiographical account of the years in the late-1940s/early-1950s spent hitching, hiking and driving; stealing, cadging and grafting back and forth across the States, has been threatened for years. Containing the first seeds of the 60s counter culture, and including portraits of all the key Beat Generation figures — Burroughs, Cassady and Ginsberg — it is just too big to be ignored. But any book that relies mostly on the quality of its prose rather than plot really has no business on the big screen.
The usual method for such an adaptation is to try to instil a bit of narrative order to the ramblings but Walter Sallas (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station) and scriptwriter Jose Rivera go for a shoot-what-you-read approach, simply recreating what is on the page. This is a recipe for disaster and the opening scenes shuffle aimlessly onto the screen. The realisation that you are to spend another two hours with these dull, self-professed artists while almost nothing happens is a fairly desperate one.
The film though has two things going for it. Firstly, Garrett Hedlund, who had previously played the lead in Tron Legacy to no particular distinction, makes for a mesmerising Dean Moriarty, the novel's Cassady figure. Secondly, the period detail is fantastically well done; all-encompassing without being stifling.
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It is as if it was filmed on location in the late 40s/early 50s. The appeal of experiencing a very specific time and place, of it being lived rather than just recreated, slowly replaces the exasperation at the rest of the film.
Throughout, a series of name actors – Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss – drop in to lend their support in small, not especially rewarding, roles, while Amy Adams pops up in a couple of scenes just to clean. Their obvious devotion to the book does help win you round. By the end I was part regretting not reading it, while feeling that this was probably an adequate substitute.
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ON THE ROAD (15)
Director: Walter Sallas
Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Tom Sturridge, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortenson
Length: 124 mins