Eight years may not be that long to turn into film that most iconic of iconic novels, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” the book that has launched many into sustained bouts of daydreaming. Because eight years
is the time it took for the project to mature. Plus, the film was lensed by one of our better filmmakers and is based on the ultimate American myth, the road story (the open road is there for the taking,
there’ll always be someone motoring down Route 66 or writing about it in a book).
All this put together would help one predict that “On the Road” is exceptional.
But in this new film from Salles, a Brazilian filmmaker, characters like Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) exist within their own ambitions and that’s about it. It’s hard to assign depth, or a sustained attempt at complexity. Or maybe it’s that niggling lack of charisma in Sam Riley I’ve been complaining of (and as it were, Sal Paradise is the glue that holds this thing together). The overtly literary characters standing in for Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac get subjugated by the larger story of “On the Road,” that of ripping through geography and psychedelic helpers in an utter revolt against conformity.
Interesting supporting characters—like Old Bull Lee (played convincingly by Viggo Mortensen), all kind-heartedness and disparagement, or Steve Buscemi’s traveler—on the other hand should’ve been given more screen time because of their above-normal ability to assert themselves on screen.
Instead of Sal Paradise, creating the right narrator out of thin air would’ve helped whip the storyline into something that aches, rolls and staggers, urging it onward. Some kind of artifice made up from scratch that would’ve made these proceedings completely extraordinary and help “On the Road” pay tribute to the greatest story told of youth, ravaged.
Safe is what comes across, however, and the inability, to be blamed on the main actors, to invoke the major figures of the Beat generation, both geographic and psychedelic, all this in spite of what is a grand movie and a career achievement for Walter Salles.
“On the Road” (no release date as of this writing) should have a very successful run at the box office thanks to its lineup (Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst and Amy Adams also appear) and the fact that Walter Salles’s previous film “The Motorcycle Diaries,” was both well-received critically and at the box office.
To be noted, during the development phase of “On the road” Salles did a lot of filming and archiving for his research and turned the footage into a documentary. This separate documentary will either be included in the DVD version or released for theatrical or VOD distribution.