REVIEW: Having premiered at Cannes, this eagerly anticipated adaptation of Jack Kerouac's seminal Beat Generation novel comes with an R18 certificate and a starry young cast, who spend well over two hours boozing, drugging and shagging their way across 1940s America.
Sal Paradise is a writer with tobacco-stained fingers and writer's block. He meets the magnetic Dean Moriarty who “had spent a third of his time in the pool hall, a third in prison and a third in the library”, and is honoured to be drawn into Moriarty's inner circle under the languid gaze of his jailbait wife, Marylou.
Even though they were relative unknowns when originally cast many years ago, core to the film's reception will be how aficionados take to the personification of their literary heroes by Tron's Garrett Hedlund (with his intense stare and charismatic gravelly voice) as Moriarty, Twilight's Kristen Stewart, and Sam Riley (whose talent was evident from the opening frames of his debut Control) as Paradise.
In the driving seat is Brazilian director Walter Salles whose proven success with The Motorcycle Diaries confirms him as the perfect person to bring this difficult novel/memoir to the screen. He has crafted a beautiful film, with its grainy, gritty, noisy aesthetic lit in golden hues to reflect the carefree days of freewheeling in search of inspiration and intellectual epiphany.
Challenged, however, by being so faithful to the source material, the action suffers slightly so that the film feels a bit drawn out, lacking a prominent narrative arc. There are no murders, explosions or plot-twists, and though the driving and drug-taking and sexual shenanigans is diverting, it does begin to wear a little thin.
The performances are strong, and there are even heavy-hitters in support - Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and some familiar faces from Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire pop up to put their old-fashioned visages to good use.
It's possible that those who don't harbour an attachment to the classic book won't connect so much with the content.
That said, energetically shot scenes often imbue in the viewer a longing to jump in a car and just take off.
As Paradise is asked at the start, “You goin' some place? Or are you just goin'?” The film clearly articulates the book's philosophy that it's the goin' that counts.
On the Road
Runtime: 139 mins
Director: Walter Salles
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund
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