From the critically acclaimed novel by Jack Kerouac, On the Road tells the story of three young men, whose relationships are put to the test in a whirlwind of drugs, sex, and travel on the roads of America in the 1940s.
Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is an aspiring writer, who when introduced to Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) by good friend and poet, Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), becomes entranced by Dean and his wild lifestyle, which leads to his own vicariousness. Dean is married to 16 year-old Marylou (Stewart), whose liberated character exposes Sal to a life unknown, while her own relationship with Dean is on a path to destruction.
Having premiered at the Cannes film festival, On the Road has a raw edge that is evident of independent filmmaking and allows Walter Salles’ adaptation to express a realism that Kerouac intended, as it’s based on the author’s own experiences of travelling across the United States.
The film’s soundtrack is brimming with jazz classics, boasting artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker, along with original material from composer Gustavo Santaolalla, which envelopes audiences in the vibrancy of the time.
Rights to the novel have been in various stages since the seventies; even in the fifties Kerouac wrote to Marlon Brando, asking him to play the role of Dean Moriarty.
Since then, portrayals of Dean were reserved for the likes of Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell, yet rumours were never followed through. In a twist of irony, Hedlund indeed bares similarities to the masculine visage of Brando and Pitt and, in doing so, maintains the stereotypical “bad-boy” image that Kerouac originally articulated in his novel.
Riley (Brighton Rock), as Paradise, is strikingly reminiscent of Emile Hirsch in Into The Wild; the same narrative dialogue is present throughout the film. Images of Riley traipsing through deserted landscapes, with juxtaposing camera shots of travel and stillness, depict a lonesome young man who is finding his way in life.
As a modern film released in 2007, Into The Wild can’t be compared to the adaptation of a classic 1950s novel, but as a precedent in the film world many parallels can be recognised.
Kristen Stewart (Twilight) yet again shows that her acting skills have no limits, as she plays the role of mature adolescent Marylou. Her experiences of the world render her matter-of-fact persona, though her marriage to Moriarty soon leaves gaping holes of naivety and a longing to conform.
Elsewhere, though not the characters with the most screen time, Tom Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked) and Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man), as Carlo Marx and Camille, are crucial to the web that Dean is weaving within the storyline.
Dunst, in particular, successfully adopts the role of a mistress who, on winning her man, just as quickly wishes for his disposal. Parallels can be made here to Michelle Williams’ Alma in Brokeback Mountain.
With a talented and diverse cast, the quality of acting exceeds expectation in On the Road, leaving very little to scrutinise. A top-notch cast list, however, doesn’t deter from a complex script that leaves audiences puzzled in places and character development lacking.
With an ambiguous ending, and heavy interrelating plots, this isn’t the kind of film that is likely to be an instant favourite, nor prone to a re-watch. It will, though, leave impacting after-thoughts that suggest it can be considered a successful adaptation of such an iconic novel.