Rambling, but respects the source while doing it. On the Road is based on the great stream-of-consciousness Jack Kerouac novel and is brought to life with a shaggy spirit. It’s 1949, and these characters do what they feel like doing, all the time. Sam Riley is Sal, a double for Kerouac himself whose performance is more of an on-looker than a participant. Tom Sturridge is Carlo Marx, who comes across as fighting self-inadequacy. And significantly and impressively, Garrett Hedlund is the hedonistic free-spirit Dean Moriarty who drives for sex, and sells himself for it too. Bi-sexuality and other experimentations are a part of it. These guys drive back and forth from New York to San Francisco, and anywhere else in-between, on whims for several consecutive years.
We are subconsciously liberated by the sight of drinkers, pseudo-philosophers and consorts testing the limits of life. Many of us today think about our mid-20th century forefathers as all straight-laced do-gooders. Kerouac and his company of trail-blazing bohemians were the rebels against a puritanical system, sticking their thumbs up their noses at convention and authority. They also saw an America of open road, the kind that doesn’t exist anymore. There are stunning shots in this film.
Sal and Dean visited and used various people, and they are played by such actors as Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Kirsten Dunst and Elisabeth Moss – all them pretty faultless. The one girl that really stays for a great extent of the ride is Kirsten Stewart, doing a bad girl turn and always ready for kinkiness. She gets naked with the boys, in one scene, in the front seat while stroking both of them – on-coming cars so shocked at the carnal sight through their windshields they nearly wreck themselves. We get one late dialogue confession by Stewart (Marylou) as to what she is really hungering for.
All of this is exciting in short breaths, but what the movie succumbs to are meandering disorderly episodes (there’s also too many shots of the guys hugging each other that is weeks apart for them, and less than five minutes for us). We are also unsure what director Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) imprint is on this film other than verité expression. But if you hold on until the final scenes we finally get a director’s stamp on the film. Still, what the movie is unavoidably missing is Kerouac prose and wit – something only on the page and in the reader’s absorption of that. If anything, Hedlund’s running on empty performance keeps the film alive.
124 Minutes. Rated R.
ROAD MOVIE / SEXY IMAGES / LATE NIGHT BENDER
Film Cousins: “Bound for Glory” (1976); “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1999) “Almost Famous” (2000); “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004, Mexico).