On The Road Review [Cannes 2012]
On The Road is the first successful movie adaptation of the book by Jack Kerouac. It predominantly follows the lives of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), who exist in the throes of the beat generation; where writers and poets pull from a variety of literacy influences to try and construct and justify their own post war cultural beliefs and values.
Sal uses Dean as his muse as the group of friends set upon numerous road trips across the US. Throughout their adventures, Dean commands an authority of all the stereotypical vices – sex, drink and drugs. His only concern is to indulge in bi-sexual promiscuity as well as getting drunk and high enough to proclaim that he is truly living and ‘keeping it real.’ His sexual conquests include the equally wanton Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and the more respectable Camille (Kirsten Dunst). Everything leads towards Sal finally being able to write the book he has always planned and to truly tell a story which is worth telling.
Personally, the film left me feeling indifferent and bored. Neither on the basis of it being thought provoking or entertaining does the film succeed on any substantial level. There is also nothing to really compliment or criticise in terms of the acting. Although, it must be said that the only reason Kirsten Dunst escapes any truly damning verdict is because of the limited appearances which her character actually makes throughout the film.
At nearly being 2 and a half hours long, the experience as a whole feels far too prolonged. Scenes start to feel repetitive as time and time again we see Dean and Sal set out on yet another jaunt across the country. It seems that we are expected to take admiration and creative appreciation from the ability to live life on the road and hold down little responsibility, while treating woman and at times men as well, as sexual commodities which can be thrown away at the drop of a hat.
There must also be a mention towards the strange and baffling character inclusions of Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) and a unnamed excursion leader played by Steve Buscemi. Both characters seem rushed and thrown in haphazardly. Buscemi’s character in particular seems to play little purpose other than to provide the film with a supposed taboo scene.
Without being able to compare it to the novel, it is difficult to know whether the faults of the film are a result of limited and over bohemianised source material. Nevertheless, I found it a chore to pay attention throughout the whole sitting and while we are shown a portrayal of people’s lives which are enriched with new experiences and substance fuelled ponderings, the film did certainly not do the same for me.
Ultimately, On The Road lacks direction and any real sense of purpose, making it feel particularly selfish and like an egotistical portrayal of artistic fulfilment. Admittedly, Salles has presented a very good looking film, the Western landscapes are captured beautifully and the production design in the recreation of the Truman era are rather good. Visually, the film is easy on the eye and Eric Gautier’s cinematography does stand out.
That being said, the film’s lack of narrative purpose and cohesiveness makes it a tiresome experience. Though in all fairness, due to the novel’s structure, many said that the book could never be adapted to film and that it was just never meant to be.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can see why some may say that.
On The Road is a particularly selfish and egotistical portrayal of artistic fulfilment.