On the Road Reviews
This film is less than the sum of its parts. In his effort to get the feeling of the Beat Generation, director Walter Salles has some quick edits and some free-wheeling music and some of the lines lifted from Kerouac's novel - all cinematic tricks that should work, but yet there's still something staid about this film. Perhaps it's the gravelly voiced Garrett Hedlund, who seems more focused on the image of Sal than the character, or perhaps it's the hackneyed shoe-horn of a script. Or perhaps Kerouac was never meant to be adapted.
Overall, it was worth a shot, but this is one book-to-film adaptation that missed the mark.
Good movie! The cinematography is outstanding, and it is a sight to behold, beautiful landscapes, a smooth, delicate filmic texture. Overall, the film is light on plot. It's mostly character study and exposition. However, that's On the Road. The film is based on a Kerouac stream-of-consciousness novel. It's about his hero worship with Dean and the ultimate disillusionment he feels with him. The conflict and resolution isn't your typical climax and ending of a film.
Shaken by the death of his father and discouraged by his stalled career, writer Sal Paradise goes on a road trip hoping for inspiration. While traveling, he is befriended by charismatic and fearless Dean Moriarty and Moriarty's free-spirited and seductive young wife, Marylou. Traveling across the American southwest together, they strive to break from conformity and and search the unknown, and their decisions change the very course of their lives.
The story is pretty dull. There's a lot of sex in it, but somehow that's boring too.
The only character I cared about was the one played by Kirsten Dunst, and she's barely in it. Kristen Stewart is good as always, but it's a real nothing role for her.
Sal was annoying and his accent sounds affected. Dean was a pig and I couldn't stand him.
It's just a lot of sex and travelling, and light on actual story. I'm sure the book was better, but I'm in no hurry to read it after two hours of this tedium.
There are plenty of reasons why this story is so hard to adapt (one being that it's so personal to so many, that it's probably difficult to tell it from an objective point of view without smacking of self-adulation) is the same reason why The Catcher and The Rye will never be made into a film: the problem with depicting these existentially provocative iconoclasts (your Dean Moriarty's, Holden Caulfield's, Christopher McCandless', etc.) is that without a strong commitment to contextualizing the sociopolitical climates of their plights, these characters, from a cinematic perspective, can come off as bored, snotty adolescents just looking to have a good time, rather than intelligent, insightful young men who are bound by their commitment to reject the conformity of middle-class values and societal norms that suffocate us all. Instead, the aim tends to be trying to get inside these characters' heads to capture their streams of consciousness as a means of development. It's a justifiable approach, but how long can a film sustain itself without allowing adequate time to reveal WHY these characters feel this way?
For example, the film does an admirable job of depicting the relationship between Dean (terrifically played by Garrett Hedlund) and Sal (Sam Riley) and their coming of age, but this is post-World War II America -- there's little to no mention of the Cold War, of McCarthyism, of the Truman Doctrine -- a pivotal time in America's history were rigid conformity was not only encouraged, it was required. For a group of kids to commit to debunking and challenging these ideals, at a time in life where one is supposed to graciously let go of one's adolescence in the name of maturation is quite astonishing. Here, in the film, you'll see lots of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but not enough fleshed out ideas.
There are moments in Kerouac's novel that are existentially provocative, even profound. Salles and company clearly poured their hearts into the film, and while there are a few bright spots (Hedlund's performance comes to mind), a book of this magnitude deserves better. On The Road, the novel, is a landmark of American literature. On The Road, the film, falls short.
On the road to failure
Walter Salles whom I admire takes the roa to failure in his new film On The Road. His attempt to create a poetic film turns out to be a complete chaos.
On The Road is a movie about the "beat generation" and their search for a bigger life.
I honestly wish this turned out to be a good film; but, the preachy script, mundane pacing, and boring acting diminish Salles great potential to be an amazong director. My main problem was the "road" or approach the movie takes; highlighting the poorly developed character instead of creating and actual story.
I wish I could give this film a higher rating because it has potential to be good, but I wont lie: dont go down this road, this movie takes the bad highway.
Dean : "Besides, all my New York friends were in the negative, nightmare position of putting down society and giving their tired bookish or political or psychoanalytical reasons, but Dean just raced in society, eager for bread and love"
"On the Road" is not a bad movie per se but it is disappointing, considering the director is Walter Salles who did such an excellent job several years back with adapting "The Motorcycle Diaries" to the screen. While "The Motorcycle Diaries" inspired me to want to overthrow a Latin American dictatorship, "On the Road," by comparison, could make even a fan of the book like myself wonder what all the fuss was about. It's not the actors' fault(Kristen Stewart is in particularly fine form) and I like that the movie does not shy away from the frank sexuality. No, it goes wrong by making the movie about the writing of the book, rather than the story itself, which takes a lot of the life out of it in a self-congratulatory gesture. Admittedly, David Cronenberg went the same route with "Naked Lunch" but there he had to, since as a friend once put it, one almost has to be a heroin addict to be able to read Burroughs, but no such excuse extends to "On The Road" due to Kerouac's cleanly written prose.
While infused with some beautiful moments and a Terrence Malick-lite approach to the material, this elliptical film never really latches onto its characters. It feels like a well-sustained jazz number, scooting and veering around, bringing memorable images here and there, while keeping an arm's length from its protagonists. I'll take away the shot of a young woman caught up in the sexual heat of a jazz concert, fanning herself from the excitement of this music, or of Hedlund lost in a drug-fueled dance.
Kirsten Stewart gives a naked performance, and I mean that literally. She's naked a LOT, but her connection to this wispy character never feels fully formed. Sam Riley, who plays the Jack Kerouac role is just kinda bland. It's a miracle that Garrett Hedlund manages to dig deep and deliver a surprisingly wonderful performance, because the obstacles here are seemingly insurmountable. All of the actors, while individually capable, aren't given a lot to work with, although Kirsten Dunst has a terrific scene where she calls Hedlund on his crap.
This is a really long slog of a movie. What seemed romantic and exciting in the novel, comes across as sad and aimless on film. I applaud the attempt, and know that Salles was a pretty good choice for this, but I listen to music to evoke a mood, but I go to films to connect to characters. Otherwise, they just end up feeling like museum installations.
Of course, Kerouac's novel has already had it's unofficial cinematic translation in Monte Hellman's existential classic "Two Lane Blacktop". Hellman wisely kept his two leads (James Taylor and Dennis Wilson) almost dialogue free, transcending character, instead acting as cyphers unto which we placed our own personalities. No such luxury is afforded by Salles, his characters talk endlessly about absolutely nothing. Within the first few minutes of listening to their beatnik slang you know you're in for a gruelling test of patience.
Thankfully the didactic tone of the novel is shortened to a few voice-over snippets as nobody over the age of 18 wants a lecture on how to live from a stoner kid (funny how when the middle classes take drugs they're "stoners" yet their working class equivalent are "junkies"). Unfortunately we still have to spend over two hours in the company of some truly repugnant individuals. How anyone could romanticize a character like Dean Moriarty (Hedlund), a sociopathic junkie car thief with no respect for anyone or anything, is beyond me. The novel, and indeed all those involved in the beat movement, has long been criticized for it's misogyny. Salles tries to deal with this by giving some time to Stewart and Dunst which really amounts to no more than lip(stick) service.
For a movie about the lure of the road we see very little tarmac and dust. Were it not for the occasional geographical subtitle, our protagonists could well have been driving in a circle. Unlike "Easy Rider", which critiques America's social mores while celebrating it's landscape, "On the Road" features little in the way of what Obama calls "America's great real estate". Dennis Hopper's film makes you immediately want to hit the dusty trails of the American SouthWest. Salles' portrayal of the same locales plays more like an advert for SouthWest Airlines.
At the outset Riley, playing Sal Paradise (a thinly veiled substitute for the author), delivers the, oft-quoted by those who sport black-rimmed glasses and PLO scarves, line "the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing" yet for the next two hours we are subjected to a variety of interactions with dullards whose thoughts are the very definition of commonplace. The only time the movie comes to life is when our "heroes" take in a jazz session. Unlike the know-it-all rich white kids of the beat generation, jazz musicians were the true artists of mid-twentieth-century America. They may not have professed to know all, but they felt all.
Essentially, we have a guy who spends the film as basically the voice-over guy, the blond dude from that crappy Tron movie screwing everything that moves (literally), and Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortenson, Terrence Howard, Amy Adams and Kristen Stewart all inexplicably being in the movie.
All the others are barely on screen for ten minutes, essentially a bunch of extended cameos just to say "Hey look, we got famous people too!" Stewart is the only one who's given anything to do, which is the classic "Strip Naked in hopes for an Oscar" character. Nude scenes are always a little weird in movies (there's never any reason to include them, and if they go viral, like the one in "Titanic," it follows you), and Stewart's character is either naked, humping the two male leads, or doing her trademark blank look while staring into space (which this movie proves is not her fault; it's obvious that she keeps getting told to do it).
Technically there's nothing wrong with the movie. It's shot beautifully, the acting is fine enough, yet something is so very off about the film. I would have to blame the blatant sexism that goes throughout the film. It's actually so 50s about women's rights that it's pretty obvious that this is not just the "period film bigotry" you see in most period flicks. Tron guy at one point "assigns" one of his regular hookups to his friend, voice-over guy, and then ends up having sex with her as the voice-over guy and the Obligatory Gay Character sit awkwardly at the couch. Voice-over guy casually leans over and says, "She was supposed to be my woman," in the same tone you would use if someone stole your Pop-Tart.
So feminist organizations, this film is not for you, or for anyone who respects women. It's one of those heartfelt letters to a time of racism and McCarthyism, and it should be avoided for that reason.
Poor poor Stewart, though.