On The Road Movie Review
ON THE ROAD follows the adventures of a young writer named Sal Paradise (Sam Riley, CONTROL) as he follows his free-spirited and wreckless best friend Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund, TRON: LEGACY). Traveling across country during the late 1940’s, Sal encounters numerous experiences and meets a variety of different people who influence his thoughts about religion, sex, drugs, music, poverty and politics.
The bulk of ON THE ROAD involves Sal, Dean and Marylou (Kristen Stewart, TWILIGHT). Marylou is Dean’s very young first wife who is just as promiscuous as Dean. Allowing the camera to linger far longer than necessary on young people acting foolishly, director Walter Salles tries to create something interesting in what is a rather empty screenplay. But by dwelling more of the sex, alcoholism and overall chaos, he actually heightens the lack of substance until it just feels dirty. Unlike Salles’ far superior and moving road trip film MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, ON THE ROAD goes nowhere.
The film contains a large ensemble popping in as quirky side characters our leads meet along the way. Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi and Terrence Howard are among some of the bigger names making an appearance. But none of their characters are particularly impactful nor do they seem very real, coming off more cartoony without the humor. The three leads do a fine job in their respective parts, particularly Sam Riley who I believe will soon become a more recognizable name for American audiences. Kristen Stewart is adequate as the cute forbidden girl and Garrett Hedlund is properly cast as a charismatic, caution to the wind kind of guy. The problem lies within the characters. For a man who is so enticing that everyone wants to be around, I found Dean to be incessantly annoying and unlikable, while Sal’s continual philosophising narration quickly becomes grating.
On a positive note, ON THE ROAD contains some great cinematography through different landscapes and settings capturing complexity with simplicity. The few quiet moments where Sal was alone on the road had more to offer than any of the dialogue or action that happened in the entire picture. That along with the steady jazz play is hardly a reason to recommend a film. But I am grateful for the fact that it triggered me to pull out some of my own jazz collection to listen to.
While the film isn’t a fully autobiographical account of Jack Kerouac, Sal represents the famous American novelist and poet. ON THE ROAD is adapted from his book by the same name. Perhaps if you’re a big fan of the writer, you will be able to follow along, enjoying the parallels. Otherwise, it offers nothing new, entertaining or remotely interesting. For a film about inspiration, ON THE ROAD lacks a surprising amount, only inspiring this writer to want a shower.