Saturday, 29 September 2012


Icon Film Distribution
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One of the (many) holes in my literary education is Jack Kerouac's seminal 1957 novel, On The Road; an oversight which can only be explained by my being more of a Catcher In The Rye kind-of-guy in my formative teen years, and too busy (i.e. lazy) to rectify the oversight in the intervening (eep!) two decades.

But perhaps my not having read the modern classic, which inspired generations of youth as well as effectively launching the Beat generation, is one of the reasons I enjoyed Walter Salles' adaptation (penned by Jose Rivera) of the book long believed to be 'unfilmable'.

Francis Ford Coppola, a producer-director not short on ambition or shy of Herculean undertakings, has held the film rights to Kerouac's book for decades but was convinced that Salles was the man for the job after the Brazilian director's 2004 feature, The Motorcycle Diaries, which recounted the early life of future revolutionary, Che Guevara, as he travelled across South America on motorbike.

The protagonist in On The Road is Sal Paradise (Sam Riley). Actually, protagonist is too strong a word for Paradise (Kerouac's alter ego) is passive rather than active; the budding writer a mostly silent observer of events which seem to orbit around, or are instigated by Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund in a breakthrough performance).

Handsome, charismatic and burning with a passion for life, Moriarty is a restless soul ever-ready to indulge in sex, drugs and jazz, and to take to the open roads of a post-WWII America that is ever-so-slowly shaking off its conservative ways. And Paradise is Moriarty's willing travel companion, as is Marylou (Kristen Stewart, livelier than she's ever been), a barely legal teen whom Dean picks up on his journeys (conveniently forgetting that he has a wife (Kirsten Dunst) and child waiting for him at home).

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of driving in On the Road (the American countryside and the seedy interiors captured equally as evocatively by Eric Gautier, who also lensed The Motorcycle Diaries and Sean Penn's Into The Wild (2007)), punctuated by detours and pit stops involving colourful characters played by colourful actors (Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Elizabeth Moss).

The film (much like the book, I understand) also has a rambling nature, and this lack of plot (combined with its 137-minute run time) is part of the reason why some (understandably) have felt more annoyance than exhilaration with Salles' film. But I never once found myself asking 'are we there yet?'.

The romance of the open road, and the bromance between Sal and Dean (Salles and Rivera keep the homoerotic attraction between the two men simmering beneath the surface) in their pursuit of something else, something real kept me suitably entertained and a willing passenger on this journey. I also feel that, unlike other book-to-film adaptations, Salles' On The Road won't prevent me from discovering (and enjoying) Kerouac's novel on its own terms.

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