‘On The Road’ tackles an iconic book as best it could

Posted in Movies by - February 09, 2015
‘On The Road’ tackles an iconic book as best it could

There’s a built in problem when crafting the film adaptation of a novel that has been widely revered for generations.  Quite simply the expectations will just be too damn high, however that doesn’t stop some filmmakers from trying as the words and iconic text of the Beat Generation are now being translated for the screen in On The Road which is now available on DVD and On Demand.

Lifted from the pages of the iconic novel of Jack Kerouac, we join Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) an aspiring New York writer who chances upon a meeting with the charming ex-con Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and his girl, the seductive and free spirited Mary Lou (Kirsten Stewart).  As they are determined not to live a buttoned down and boring life, the two new friends cut loose and hit the road with Marylou determined to experience what they felt was life.  Hungry for a sense of freedom and adventure they head out into the world looking for new experiences and most importantly themselves.

Admittedly and astoundingly, not having read the novel, I am spared the vitriolic feelings of knowing exactly what got left out, but I do know it’s almost patently impossible for everything from any book’s pages to hit the screen.  Having said that, this is ultimately an interesting film that isn’t without some charm in spite of the obvious challenges that lay in front of it

Having Walter Salles in the director’s chair was actually a fairly smart choice as many beats from the film felt lifted from his previous efforts in “The Motorcycle Diaries” from 2004.  He effectively fine tuned the road trip film as it is a well shot and good looking movie that treats the open desert highway and the flop houses slums of New York with the same amount of reverence.  Through the use of light and shadow to maximum effect it lets us in the audience know when the dirt, the passion and the sex is operating at full effect.  In many ways the film feels like it rambles from depraved act to depraved act be it sex, drugs or anything else in-between, it’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can make you feel like the things that are going on in front of us are a little too chaotic.  Stories like this are supposed to have a certain beat to it, and while Salles puts a compelling product on the screen he never quite finds what its actually supposed to be even with a cast that comes through with some reasonably solid performances.

Sadly the weakest performance in the entire film comes from our defacto leading man.  Sam Riley’s Sal Paradise often feels like he is just getting swept along with the narrative as no real effort at character development was ever made at making him interesting or even likable, he was simply there.  Having an underwritten lead character may work in a novel where there is are simply more pages available to work with but in a feature film you’ve got to have your lead get to the point and in a hurry, being aimless on screen simply doesn’t work.

Garrett Hedlund does a surprisingly good job in more iconic Dean Moriarty role. His restless ex-con who loved and left people at every turn reeks of a true personal desperation to seem interesting.  He successfully fills his eyes with a mix of street savvy and naiveté all at the same time and it worked to perfection as you get sucked into his very desperation that he puts across on screen.

As the muse Mary Lou, Kirsten Stewart actually came through with a very brave performance and after her run in the Twilight films that propelled her to superstardom she quite literally bares it all as she dove head first into the sleaze, the sweat and the sex that this material was dripping with.

There’s a cavalcade of familiar faces like Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Alica Braga, Elizabeth Moss and Terrence Howard  in some smaller roles, undoubtedly due to their affinity for the source material but at the end of it all not enough people in this ensemble stand out enough to make the film a memorable one.

There’s isn’t a single thing about On The Road that is honestly bad, but by the end of it you won’t be able to shake the fact that there is something missing from this adaptation.   It might be in the book somewhere. Then again, it might not.

Special Feature on the DVD includes Deleted Scenes.

This post was written by
David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.