Oh Jack, Jack, Jack… I don’t know how you would feel about the film adaptation of you epic novel. To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about it either. On one hand, the movie was beautiful. On the other, the movie felt broken and disjointed. It didn’t flow as smoothly and poetically as the source material, which happens to be the original scroll and not the Penguin Press version. Adding to that, it felt as if the movie glazed over one of the most important characters in the movie – the road.
Walter Salle (director) is no stranger to road trip movies. After all, he directed the Che Guevara biopic, “The Motorcycle Diaries.” “On the Road” is equally beautiful. The style of the movie, and soundtrack – a maniacal collage of bongo driven jazz – work to create a sense of hurry – leaving the viewer somewhat breathless; which is good in a way as it serves as an addendum to the character of Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund of Tron Legacy and Friday Night Lights) whose manic energy exhausting to keep track of.
I won’t waste time trying to fluff up this review. Put simply, the movie is pretty to look at and quite stylized and the actors put out strong efforts. Vigo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, and Garrent Hedlund put out solid performances. Sam Riley also did a good job as Sal Paradise, though I didn’t think he was a good fit for that role. What I mean is that when I imagine Sal Paradise, I don’t imagine Sam Riley. Kristen Stewart received a lot of attention as Marylou. I felt the media and movie focused too much on her character. Her role is significant but not as significant as the actual road should have been, which is where Sal and Dean build their relationship and Dean’s character develops the depth it needs to be a three dimensional character.
Unfortunately the narrative is broken and it creates a feeling similar to Lars Ulrich’s drumming on Metallica’s St. Anger album – that off a jittery child with ADHD. Either the editing or the actual screen play is the culprit here. I can’t say which it is, maybe both. Regardless, the movie fails to capture the melancholic whimsy of Kerouac’s prose and perception of the American Dream. The glazing over of their time driving is a disappointment because the characters they meet are important in how the travels affected Sal and Dean. Furthermore, they creators of the movie removed huge chunks of the book en mass. This contributes to the broken storyline and leaves the viewer wondering why the hell Sal ended up in California. These sections could have been dealt with differently through brief one to two minute narrative clips. I felt the writing of the movie did not capture the essence of the novel and created a shallow photocopy of the original effort.
They were on the road to find IT. They never found it. This movie does even start the search for it. In a nutshell it gets ★★1/2.
P.S. This is the second movie in two years that was based on a novel I find endearing. The first was Atlas Shrugged Pt. 1, which was a total piece of s***. On the Road is exponentially better but still disappointing.
David Thomas is a freelance writer living in Austin Texas. He is a contributing writer to the Austinot Blog and is co-host on the Ruca and Dave Show podcast.