On The Road (2012)

12 October 2012

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On The Road. Jack Kerouac's seminal pseudo-autobiography finally heads to the big screen thanks to director Walter Salles Jr. (The Motorcycle Diaries) and producer Francis Ford Coppola. The tale is semi-based on the author's trips across America, with fiction intertwining with reportedly real events and people met along the way. The starring cast includes Kristen Stewart, Sam Riley, and Kirsten Dunst. José Rivera provides the adaptation.

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“Salles does manage to capture the haphazard, carelessness of the road trip experience...”

Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel On the Road is hailed as one of the finest, most influential pieces of literature of the 20th century, so there is always going to be that added sense of pressure on any filmmaker attempting to adapt the book to the big screen. However director Walter Salles has opted to take on the challenge, in his star-studded interpretation of the hugely successful novel. 

Set across America in the latter end of the 1940's, we follow the journey of young writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) who alongside his freewheeling, reckless best friend Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) decides to go on a road-trip, encountering a host of unique characters who make the experience unforgettable to say the least.

A mainstay of the trip is Dean's equally as experimental and impetuous girlfriend Marylou (Kristen Stewart), as they drive from town to town, with sexual chemistry between the three burning throughout. Dean has more than one girl (and guy...) to his name however, as he meets lover Camille (Kirsten Dunst) as well as visiting characters such as Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) and Jane (Amy Adams) to name but two.

If there is one thing to be said about Salles' On the Road is the brilliantly stylish atmosphere to the film, with a wonderfully American 1940's mise-en-scene and ambience, complete with a fine jazz and blues soundtrack. However on a more negative note, the film can certainly be accused of going on for too long, as Sal and Dean's journey feels too drawn out, reaching severe points of tedium along the way.

The performances are steady across the board, with a series of enjoyable cameo's littered across the movie, from some of the Hollywood's biggest stars. The likes of Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Terrence Howard all appear, though barely making up any screen time between them, as we see our protagonists drift in and out of different towns and different people's houses throughout. The use of so many charismatic figures for such short periods really does sum up the unplanned, spontaneity of such an experience.

Meanwhile, Hedlund is impressive in the role as Dean – carrying a certain swagger and charm about him, which is essential in such a role, as effectively this film is all about him, we merely see his journey through the eyes of Sal. Unfortunately the same can't be said of Stewart, who once again fails to impress in a role outside of the Twilight franchise, although – but please don't quote me on this – I think she does smile at one point, so it's not all bad.

Despite appearing as a film to cater to the hipster generation - predictably voguish and overly trendy, Salles does manage to capture the haphazard, carelessness of the road trip experience, as On the Road is all over the place, and although such a remark isn't often used in a positive manner, in this instance such an approach simply suits the nature of this film. At the very least, this'll go down well in Shoreditch.

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  • Release Date
  • 25 February 2013
  • Technical Features / Extras
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15