After spending over half a century in development hell (it was originally conceived as vehicle for Marlon Brando at the height of his post Wild One fame), the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic novel has finally made it to the screen, and the results are mixed bag, partly brilliant, partly eccentric and partly pretentious.
The film, as with the novel, follows the mostly autobiographical adventures of writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) who in the 1940’s beat generation meets the charismatic, intelligent and wild Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). Together, they share a friendship that crosses the country and covers years as they share lovers, get high and meet a cast of wild characters.
No stranger to the period road movie after having directed the excellent biopic on the younger days of Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles directs the film exquisitely. He captures the period beautifully in a relatively small scale and evokes the warmly lit, smoky dens of the beat lifestyle perfectly. While he happily shows the highs of his main characters exciting vagrant lifestyle of drifting through life freely, he’s also brave enough to not pull any punches in showing the harsh consequences of their choices, and the film is all the better for it.
As the leads, relative newcomers Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund are excellent. Riley, with his unconventional looks but gripping honesty should have no problem establishing himself as one of his generations great character actors, but make no mistake, Garrett Hedlund after his brave and charismatic work here proves that he is about to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. The much publicized Kristen Stewart in a serious dramatic role does fairly well despite her limited screen time and the fact that when she is on screen, she’s usually engaging in various sexual acts (of which there are many). A roster of big name supporting actors (Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Steve Buscemi) do well in their roles of varying sizes (Mortensen in particular is excellent), but somehow seem to distract from the obscurity of its leads which adds to overall charm of the film.
The main flaw with On The Road is it’s story, and that’s perhaps why it took so long to finally get made. It’s narrative lacks a proper through line and we spend too much time going in circles, and as sumptuously filmed as they are, the stoned out party scenes in the films first half soon become repetitive and tiresome. While this isn’t to say that all films should adhere to a conventional structure, On The Road ultimately falls short because it tries to. The excellent music by Gustavo Santaolalla and cinematography by Eric Gautier however, make for a tolerable, if rambling, time.
Beautifully made, but overlong with too much repetition, On The Road is still a worthwhile film experience that’s ultimately better than some of its failings.
On the Road is in Australian cinemas from 27 September through Icon Films.