A tribute to the all time classic novel of Jack Kerouac, On the Road is stylish, but ultimately slow and messy adaptation of Kerouac's autobiographic masterpiece. Beautifully created and with splendid performances, this movie is one of those examples when its director is incapable of matching the initial cult level of the story's source.
On the Road is not only a tribute to Jack Kerouac, but to the whole group of post-World War II writers, known as Beat Generation. The movie describes everything with which this group was famous for: wild bohemian lifestyle, drugs abuse, alternative sexuality, religion à la carte, first signs of post-modernism. It tries to follow the story of the novel and to lead the audience through a trip a life-changing trip around the US in which the prototypes of Jack Kerouac ( Sam Riley as Sal Paradise) and Neal Cassady (Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty) grab with full hands from their lives, from their passionate friendship, just to find in the end a world of broken dreams, loneliness and melancholy.
As an idea, Walter Salles' movie tries to be as close to Kerouac's novel as possible. Yet, the movie suffers from two main big problems. Firstly it lacks the restrained energy, the alternative wildness of the novel. The first half of the movie is slow and too messy with nothing to hold the grip on the audience except for the splendid performances. Secondly, and not of lesser importance, Salles' delivery is simply unable to inspire, to grab the complete attention, to consume its audience the way the books does with its readers. Despite the beautiful cinematography and the prolonged scenes of bohemian lifestyle the movie would probably bore those unfamiliar with Kerouac's novel. Only the duo Riley & Hedlund, supported by Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Stewart (who is actually not that bad !), could not keep the attention of the "ordinary decent" moviegoer Speaking of them, Garrett Hedlund is truly the star of this movie as the self-destructive and egoistic Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady).
On the Road is definitely a strange, experimental movie, polarizing movie. Far away from the Hollywood mainstream deliveries, it is a demanding piece of art which does not fully rewards its audience. It lacks the ability to inspire, to provoke, to consume its viewers, simply because it cannot match the cult level of the original novel