On the Road - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

On the Road Reviews

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Super Reviewer
April 2, 2012
Salles follows closely the heartbeat and structure of the iconic novel to capture the wild spirit of the Beat Generation, to which he is more than faithful, and so this is an exciting collection of road anecdotes revolving around the friendship between Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.
Super Reviewer
September 28, 2015
Sal Paradise goes on the road with Dean Moriarty and company.
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.
Super Reviewer
November 6, 2013
The best teacher is experience.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ August 6, 2013
Ugh! Mopey people being miserable. That's not entertainment.
Super Reviewer
September 24, 2012
Disappointing. Haven't read the book, so that was not my issue. Just expected better with such a good cast.
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.
Super Reviewer
½ September 30, 2012
Too handsome and tentative to capture anything like the energy and passion and ecstasy and sadness of Kerouac's book. That was a beat novel, this really is not a beat film - and that's the problem. The performances are generally strong, but it's the actual filmmaking that holds it back. Lurches towards the abstract or symbolic are heavy handed and frankly clumsy, miles from the easy fluency and spontaneity of the writing behind it. An unsatisfying film and a pretty misguided adaptation.
Super Reviewer
December 15, 2012
three stars
Super Reviewer
½ December 8, 2012
Jack Kerouac's seminal mission statement for the Beat Generation has always been deemed unfilmable. It's a period piece without an easy-to-follow narrative, whereby the characters' quest for self-discovery and meaning are captured in Keraouc's descriptive, free-flow writing style more than any identifiable plot point. Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights in 1979, and for 25 years, seemingly every A-list actor and director were attached at various points, but the project always fell through. After enlisting Walter Salles (no stranger to "the road movie") and scribe Jose Rivera, we finally have the long-awaited film adaptation -- and, as one might expect, it's largely directionless and unfocused.

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.
Super Reviewer
July 23, 2012
The best teacher is experience

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"
Super Reviewer
January 7, 2013
At the beginning of "On the Road," Sal Paradise(Sam Riley) is staying with his mother(Marie-Ginette Guay) in Ozone Park while recovering from his father's death and his own illness. Distracting him from reading 'Swann's Way' is news of the legendary Dean Moriarty(Garrett Hedlund) coming to town with his 16-year old bride Marylou(Kristen Stewart). Upon meeting him, Sal and his friend Carlo(Tom Sturridge) are suitably impressed and everybody becomes friends. But when Dean and Marylou head back to Denver, only Carlo accompanies them, as Sal apparently requires a written invitation to heed the siren call of the west. Once there, he finds the domestic situation has shifted with Dean now together with Camille(Kirsten Dunst) while Carlo still can't get laid.

"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.
Super Reviewer
November 3, 2012
The iconic novel by Jack Kerouac was always considered impossible to adapt to film. A story which defined the post-World War II generation as its characters traveled America experimenting with drugs and getting lost in the emerging jazz and beat poetry of their time, ON THE ROAD spoke to young people much like RENT did to 90s young adults. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Walter Salles' artful yet incredibly remote and tedious film.

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.
Super Reviewer
October 13, 2012
Kerouac's book has long been considered un-filmable, and justifiably so given the only reason to read "On the Road" is for it's prose. Take away the author's energetic turn of phrase and you're left with some loathsome characters in bland situations. Cinema substitutes gesture for phrase, and in Salles' adaptation the gestures are empty. Novels and films are completely different art-forms, there's no reason to believe they should be compatible. Film-makers of course have an arrogance that compels them to translate every respected piece of prose into their medium. Few are incensed at the thought of a film of "On the Road" but a novelization of "Citizen Kane" would provoke outrage on a Muhammad cartoon scale. So, cinema being the toughest kid in the playground of the arts, we get yet another attempt at a book long thought un-filmable, ultimately rendered nigh on un-watchable.
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.
Super Reviewer
November 21, 2012
Being part of a test screening and a focus group, it was interesting to hear what others had to say about the film on top of my own opinions. "On The Road"'s biggest selling point is its cast. While not stellar all around, everyone at least had decent performances, with, in my opinion, Garrett Hedlund and Kirsten Dunst standing out. However, many of the characters were either underutilized or underdeveloped, with their relations to one another quite unclear. As a matter of fact, most of the movie was left to the viewer having to infer and assume based on information thrown to us. The opening was confusing, its flow was choppy, its pace was inconsistent, and even if it checked all the boxes of what "On The Road" consisted of, it lacked a distinct story arc to grab on to. Some scenes felt pointless, as with the many sex scenes, even if it was a huge part of the novel. On the plus side, this film adaptation seems to stay true to the Kerouac novel, so I've heard. The cinematography and music worked in very well, but something was amiss. I did enjoy it more than others but as a whole, "On The Road" would definitely gain from some reworking (better editing, clearer narrative), and with clever marketing, it will draw in the crowds, be it fans of the book or fans of the cast.
Super Reviewer
½ October 14, 2012
I don't normally watch indie flicks, much less ones based on one of the most popular books of the 1950s. I have not read the book, nor do I plan to, because I'm at once admiring how well made the film is and yet how bizarrely disgusting it can get. It shifts from people walking to sexual deviancy to people walking to people sitting in cars into some really twisted stuff.
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.
Super Reviewer
½ August 6, 2013
At least the film doesn't bombard the audience with a series of obvious juxtapositions (the beatniks vs. shocked normal people), but it lacks a soul. Even without emotional investment in the story, I feel like I should point out how great Garrett Hedlund is as Dean Moriarty. He stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Super Reviewer
½ October 15, 2012
Interesting and sublime enough to grab and hold your attention, speckled with strong actors and believable performances, "On The Road" takes Jack Kerouac's novel and presents it almost literally to the audience, leaving a sense of actual storytelling and plot progression behind. Garrett Hedlund steals the show as Dean Moriarty, the eccentric and constantly shifty ex-con, who befriends writer Sal Paradise, the character based on Kerouac, played convincingly by Sam Riley. Accompanied by familiar faces like Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, and Kirsten Dunst, along with strong showings from Alice Braga and Tom Sturridge, this novel adaptation is enthralling if not a bit too plodding. The real question arising from the film is whether Kristen Stewart is starting on the correct path following her "Twilight" days. The answer is yes, she does take a step forward in my book, finally exposing herself, not only physically, which often takes a lot of willpower, but showing her first seminal range of emotions, from an invigorating dance scene with Hedlund to the expression of her devastation regarding Dean and being his mistress. "On The Road" definitely is not the film to highlight a Beat Generation, but it is entertaining enough to warrant a viewing.
December 29, 2013
I can't really compare it to the novel by Jack Kerouc since I haven't read it...but it was good, not more not less. The actors did a good job overall but the pacing at times seemed to be inconsistent. Kristen Stewart definitely plays a different role in this film! 6/10 or 3/5
September 26, 2014
I haven't gotten around to reading the book so I didn't have any expectations when I watched this... that said it seemed fine. I'm assuming the negative reviews are just based off of the fact that the book is superior, because this movie just felt pretty straight forwardly about a bunch of 20 year olds being 'youthful.' Maybe the fact that I left this movie feeling like I watched a Wranglers commercial is why everybody hated it, but that was basically what I expected so I can't say I'm disappointed? That said, it was pretty forgettable.
½ July 6, 2014
At first you feel as if the story will just wander aimlessly as the protagonists do. Then it leaves you with a kick to the gut as you learn the fate of one character in particular. A character not unlike someone you may have known, a character not unlike, perhaps, yourself.
August 10, 2013
Not an amazing adaptation, this is still an entertaining and intriguing adaptation of Kerouac's novel. Beautifully filmed and featuring some great moments, the film waters down the poetic vigor of the novel at times, yet it still manages to keep us engaged. Viggo Mortensen, in particular, is amazing during the Burroughs scenes, which definitely could have been more prolonged. The female characters seem two-dimensional, but then they seem that way in the novel too. A flawed film of a flawed novel, On the Road still manages to be convey some of the qualities that make the novel so iconic and influential.
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