ON THE ROAD—–2012 attempt at putting onto film Jack Kerouac’s elusive 1957 proto-Beat novel comes up with fine production design, a great period look, and committed performances, but it’s as unlikely to please fans of the novel and its style as it is to win over those who never felt the allure.
Decades of gnashing over & hashing out planned interpretations by scads of actors, writers and directors finally came to 124 minutes scripted by Jose Rivera, directed by Walter Salles. Rivera wrote the screenplay for one of the All-Time Great Road Movies, The Motorcycle Diaries, and the deft Brazilian Salles directed that masterpiece, but they don’t have the same luck capturing the disaffected Ike-Era North American wanderers as they did with their Latin counterpart Che Guevara. You have to like endless cigarette smoking passing as enlightenment and endless furious talk amounting to stale air. Looks good, though.
Leads Sam Riley (‘Sal Paradise’/Kerouac) and Garrett Hedlund (wastrel jerk ‘Dean Moriarty’/Neal Cassady) don’t cut it. Charisma is missing in action. Good work shows through from Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams and Kristen Stewart, with Viggo Mortensen going them all one better as an appropriately out-there ‘Old Bull Lee’/William S. Burroughs. Tom Sturridge makes a wan ‘Carlo’/Allen Ginsberg. With Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Danny Morgan, Sarah Allen, Terrence Howard and Steve Buscemi (of course). 60s ghost Michael Sarrazin peeks in.
Twenty-seven people are listed as producers in one capacity or another. They were blessed by fine camera work from Eric Gautier, who shot in Quebec, Calgary, Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, California, Chile and Argentina. At a tab of $25,000,000, it garnered lukewarm reviews and a slogging $8,785,000 gross.
Ironically conventional convention-mocking, it’s a worthwhile curio, visually engaging but fitful as drama; a real case of I Guess You Had To Be There, making it tempting to say “stick with the book”. Better yet, leave the used, passage-underlined paperback with that scraggly-goatee’d Camel-devouring poseur in the next booth and hit what’s left of The Road yourself. With any luck you’ll survive the Insights from self-mythologizing punkweeds like ‘Dean’.