Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series of reviews Hypable will be running from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, currently taking place in France – On the Road. Special thanks to our friend and critic, Marco Cerritos for the reviews.
For decades, many filmmakers have courageously tried to bring Jack Kerouac’s literary adventure On the Road to the silver screen. Along the way, some noble attempts have been made while others crashed and burned on the spot. Adapting such rich, dense material from one medium to another is without a doubt a very tough challenge so it brings me no satisfaction to proclaim Walter Salles’ latest stab another failed experiment.
Salles is a gifted filmmaker who is best known to American audiences for making The Motorcycle Diaries. That film was another adaptation of prior source material but the breath and life of the former is completely missing in the latter. And what a shame that is since On the Road reads as a non-stop thrill ride through 1940’s America. There are wild parties, wild sex and enough crazy ideas to make your head spin. The cinematic version has most of that but completely devoid of fun and meaning. It is a limp and pedestrian representation of what Kerouac’s words represent.
This isn’t to say On the Road as a film is a complete waste of everyone’s time. The leads are what most threaten to bring this film to life every few minutes (to no avail but at least they give it a shot). Sal (Sam Riley) is our guide through this story of debauchery with wildman Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a guy who is always up for a dangerously good time. Moriarty is the badboy who has no problem juggling women (Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst among others) and being an all-around bad influence for our storyteller. Drugs, sex and booze are all on the menu but they collide with schizophrenic narration and bizarre editing choices that threaten to bring the entire film down the drain.
Again, adapting any novel (let alone this Beat milestone) is tough, so my hat is off to Walter Salles and company for giving it their best shot. You have to be extremely confident or crazy to attempt such a feat in the first place since the source material is practically impossible to film. There are intermittent flashes of life in On the Road that hint at a possible translation that not only makes sense but is also entertaining. These are the sparks that threaten to justify this ill-advised cinematic attempt but they are too few and far between. In the end, On the Road hits the right notes but without any passion or flavor, a dull copycat of its towering predecessor.
Marco Cerritos is a fifteen-year veteran of the film critic scene in the Bay Area. When not arguing with friends over trivial movie plot points he spends his time traveling to film festivals and figuring out why Dubstep is so popular.
On the Road is scheduled to be released in 2012.
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