Jack Kerouac’s most enduring literary work is a little piece known as ‘On The Road.’
Ever heard of it?
Anyway, some fool has taken on the task of adapting it into a film.
Let’s see how that went.
Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is a writer whose father has just died, leaving him heartbroken and uninspired. Through a mutual friend, he meets Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a free spirit who wants to take up writing.
Dean and Carlo (the mutual friend, played by Tom Sturridge) head off to Denver. Sal eventually joins up with them when he tires of New York City. Carlo then moves to Africa for some self-discovery.
Over the next few years, Sal and Dean travel (separately and together) all across the country, eventually retreating back to New York, many times. Dean marries a young girl named Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and includes her in some of their trips, only to divorce her later. She becomes involved with Sal, briefly. Dean then marries and has a child with Camille (a girl Sal once found himself involved with).
The traveling partnership and adventure experiences many ups and downs, resulting in growth for the protagonists.
Yeah…this story doesn’t have a very clear plot. It’s more about character development and the evolving relationship of some bohemian young people.
People have been trying to make this book into a movie for over fifty years. Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights to the book in the late ’70s but countless filmmakers had been considered and many actors had been rumored to be up for the major roles. This project’s completion gives some closure to that.
Whether the cast or director Walter Salles were the right choices will be up for debate. Salles is best known for giving us ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ a few years back. That movie also dealt with a young historical figure, Che Guevara, and his journeys. The only difference is, Guevara was involved in changing the history of a country while Kerouac chronicled and slightly fictionalized the love affairs, chemical consumption and travels of himself and some of his beatnik friends. The stakes and cultural ramifications are on two vastly different planes.
What we have here are a few self-centered characters who consistently put their own interests ahead of those around them. Moriarty, especially, uses people for as long as he can until he has to move on. The low point of this is when he abandons his wife and child to go to Mexico. One angle that could have garnered Moriarty a little more audience sympathy would have been to spend more than 30 seconds acknowledging the search for his father.
Hedlund’s performance steals the show here. Technically, Riley’s Sal Paradise is the star because he is the observer of the film though Moriarty is, by far, the most interesting and unlikable character. As usual, Stewart doesn’t show much emotion or do a lot, but her character’s very presence helps to show what kind of guys our leads are. So many characters are presented (often standing in for real authors. Carlo Marx = Allen Ginsburg, for example) but many of them are inconsequential. The one exception to the rule is Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee (William Burroughs). Maybe the character is a bit supplemental to the story, but there is a certain gravity there because of Mortensen.
Special features include: deleted scenes and a trailer.
‘On The Road’ is a competent, straightforward telling of famous series of literary road-trips. The most beloved qualities of the book are lost as much of Kerouac’s writing doesn’t really exist in the superficial details of the story.
Oh well. Maybe this will inspire some people to read the book.
Add an extra half star to the rating.
Rated R 124 minutes 2013