So let’s start this review with a disclaimer of sorts. Supposedly On the Road is based on some really famous book by some dude Jock Kerock? I have not read that book as my eyes can only absorb a narrative when it is projected at 24 frames a second.
Right then, confession time over – let’s move on.
Yorkshire’s finest Sam Riley plays a young New York writer by the name of Sal Paradise who is struggling for inspiration. Things start to look up when the nonconformist free spirit Dean Moriarty (played by Tron’s Garett Hedlund) and his girl Marylou (Twilight and Rpatz’s Kristen Stewart) arrive in his life. The film follows their journey around North America over the next three years.
Brazilian director Walter Salles is probably best known to western audiences for his 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries which shared the rambling life-defining journey of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. The film was a critical and (relative) commercial success and provided audiences with a wonderful glimpse of South America in the middle of the twentieth century.
Salles re-teams up with regular cinematographer Eric Gautier and heads up to the US of A to share a story of North America at a similar time in history. Gone is the talk of poverty and a brooding revolution but the central theme of a quest for freedom, knowledge and expression remains. The grainy washed-out film stock that characterised The Motorcycle Diaries remains and is matched with beautiful photography which help give a real sense of time and place.
On the Road’s biggest problem was always going to be fitting everything in. The sheer scale and inferred “untouchability” of a classic story like this was always going to be screenwriter Jose Rivera’s biggest problem. And so it’s to his credit that at no point in the two hour runtime do you feel like you’re really missing something or indeed that the story is moving too fast. It focuses in on five different chapters and each of them is handled well with every viewer likely to find a favourite location.
Worth noting is the rather incredible list of supporting characters that Kerouac gave us and Salles brings to live with the help of a wealth of talent, with none better than two Spooool favourites in Viggo Mortensen and Steve Buscemi. There is an image of Buscemi and Hedlund that will live long in the memory.
Kirsten Stewart is at her most alluring and least annoying since 2007’s Into the Wild and Sam Riley lives up to the promise he has shown in his short career which has stagnated slightly since wooing us all with his portrayal of Ian Curtis in Control. Moriarty is an intensely dense and challenging character but Hedlund’s portrayal oozes charisma and shows his range. This young trio may not challenge the three lead actors in The Perks of Being a Wallflower for our itwontbearealawarddontworry prize for best young cast, but they still deserve serious credit for breathing new life into characters which have been dissected by English classes for half a century.
In short, On the Road is real joy of a film to get lost in and a pleasant surprise to anyone willing to approach these kids and their journey with fresh perspective.
France, UK, USA, Brazil / Directed By: Walter Salles / Written By: Jose Rivera / Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Elizabeth Moss, Terrence Howard, Tom Sturridge / 124min / Drama / Release: 12 October 2012 (UK/Ireland), 21 December 2012 (US/Canada)