The film adaption of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel On the Road’s has not been kindly received by most critics. Many have seen the film as too polite or beige, adjectives that unfairly negate the smooth skill with which director Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries) translates the revered material to the screen.
Confession: I have not read On the Road but the film has definitely made me want to.
Sam Riley (Control, Brighton Rock) stars as writer Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s alter ego, who follows unpredictable livewire Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund, Tron: Legacy) on what is essentially a three-year long road-trip/bender. They are sometimes joined by Dean’s on-again-off-again wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart, Twilight) and tortured poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge, The Boat that Rocked).
Salles and gifted cinematographer Eric Gautier (Into the Wild, The Motorcycle Diaries) gorgeously paint and stage convincing 1950s Americana that never seems overly fussy or contrived. The rugged American landscapes and scrappy, stained apartments feel real and lived-in as do the relationships of the characters who inhabit them.
Hedlund has the generic attractiveness of a soap opera actor but gives an engaging, nuanced performance that touches on Moriarty’s selfishness, demons, intelligence and most importantly his enigmatic charisma. Sal is more internal but Riley, in his finest performance since Control, subtly conveys his character’s shift of perception throughout the film.
This is a shapeless film, perhaps a little long. But its attentiveness to small details, its offhand beauty and the chemistry and charisma of its cast make it a road worth taking.
Cast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Tom Sturridge, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Walter Salles
Writer/s: Jack Kerouac (book), Jose Rivera (screenplay).
On the Road is screening again at the Sydney Film Festival on June 12th