On the Road
dir Walter Salles
scr Jose Rivera
prd Charles Gillibert, Nathanael Karmitz, Rebecca Yeldham
with Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Sturridge, Danny Morgan, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard
release UK 12.Oct.12, US 21.Dec.12
12/US MK2 2h17
On the Road
Hit the road, Jack: Riley and Hedlund

stewart dunst sturridge
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
On the Road Jack Kerouac's iconic 1957 novel has always been considered unfilmable, but that isn't why this film fails to come together. It's simply a badly constructed script that lacks momentum or pacing, leaving its fine cast and expert crew to make beautiful scenes that never connect to the audience.

Sal (Riley) is an aspiring young writer in 1947 New York who hangs out with his friends Carlo (Sturridge) and Dean (Hedlund). Well, it's more accurate to say that everyone follows in Dean's charismatic wake. He's married to the 16-year-old Marylou (Stewart) but having an affair with Camille (Dunst) and pretty much every other girl he meets. Sal's and friends follow him into rampant drug use, mainly smoking hash as they drive back and forth across America in search of some direction in their lives.

The film essentially centres on Sal's personal journey, although it abandons him to leap erratically through the years, skipping key defining moments that leave us wondering what's happened in the interim. Every sequence is marked by the sudden reappearance of Dean, the charismatic life of the party whom anyone would probably follow over a cliff. But it seems like the only point of Sal's relationship with him is to gather outrageous life experiences for his future writing career and then escape before he dies in a pool of his own vomit.

The cast give relaxed, easy performances as young people on a voyage of discovery. Hedlund's Dean is a force of nature with no rules, so he makes everyone else look rather boring. Riley gives a nicely thoughtful performance as Sal, occasionally sparking with other characters such as Braga's migrant worker. By contrast, Riley and Stewart only half-heartedly flirt with chemistry. And there isn't enough of the scene-stealing Mortensen as a fictionalised Hunter S Thompson.

Eric Gautier's cinematography is warm and sunny, with a sexy sense of physicality. Although sometimes Salles strains to be hip and poetic with his use of Sal's wordy voiceover, clouds of hash smoke and achingly cool songs. And the cycles of free-living are exhausting to watch, especially since there's a hint of moralising about the way it's so deliberately portrayed as squalid and irresponsible. So it's hardly surprising that the choppy, unfocussed structure loses us along the road.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, sexuality, violence 6.Sep.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall