By Charlie David Page
11th June 2012

When it comes to turning a novel into a big screen adaptation, it's always a daunting process to fit all the nuances and emotions from the written page into two-odd hours of entertainment on the big screen. That's even more so when you're talking about a literary classic such as jack Kerouac's 'On The Road', a book that has inspired countless millions since its release; this is a mighty sacred book whose story is on the line.

Sal is a novelist living in New Jersey, who meets the revered and reckless Dean Moriarty through his good friend Carlos. The three become inseparable, and inevitably leads to the criss-crossing of the American countryside by Sal and Dean, along with a number of different people who come in and out of their lives.

This tale of Kerouac's is largely autobiographical, and contains flashes of the great names of the Beat generation of post-World War II America - including Neal Cassady, who was the inspiration for Dean Moriarty (the character was even referred to as Neal in earlier versions of Kerouac's work). It was a time when culture and attitudes were changing, where people wanted to live their lives freely and feel something after being constrained for so long.


We get a glimpse of this in the film; as is inevitable with such a lengthy and chaotic novel, it cannot all make its way onto the screen. What we do get is the essence of the story, jam-packed into two and a bit hours. Characters are missing, as is much of Sal's love life (save a few odd sex scenes). There's still plenty of drugs, debauchery and destination unknown; it's a fast-paced ride back and forth across America. This is stunning if you're a fan of Kerouac's work, but should you not be familiar with it, stories, characters and their associations with each other may appear a little unclear at the pace this film sets.

The performances found in 'On The Road' are overall superb. It's a cast who clearly had fun making the film, as it translates onto the screen in dazzling style. Virtual unknown Sam Riley as the soul-searching Sal plays his part to perfection; he's unafraid and brings a much-needed gravitas to Sal amongst all the exaltation. Garrett Hedlund ('TRON: Legacy') plays Dean Moriarty precisely the way he should - a rebellious madman whose decline is both sad and inevitable. Although some of her better work, Kristen Stewart doesn't quite embody Dean's one true love, Marylou - while she has the laissez-faire attitude, Marylou is meant to be a ferocious young woman who fits in among the guys, and while we get glimpses of this, it's not a strong enough performance.

It's a cast who clearly had fun making the film, as it translates onto the screen in dazzling style.

This film is also littered with smaller players - highlights include Amy Adams in the role of Jane who sweeps the cobwebs from the trees, her equally as mad husband Old Bull Lee played by a quirky Viggo Mortensen, and Kirsten Dunst's Camille, neglected wife and mother to two of Dean's children. You also won't be able to miss Steve Buscemi's small but somewhat creepy role.

The film is really brought together by the masterful Walter Salles, whose direction on this film is a clear reason for its success. It's shot like a classic, with spectacular view of the American countryside - not a frame is out of place. He also keeps the actors in check, whilst giving them enough freedom for performances to feel natural and for scenes to eventuate. It's very smartly planned and brings Jose Rivera's screenplay to life with great justice.

This is not a perfect translation of the source material. To be honest, I don't think that could be possible with a novel such as 'On The Road'. Instead, what this film contains is a stunning distillation of the tale of Sal and Dean, presented on screen in a heart-warming, inspiring fashion. If you get the opportunity, don't miss this film.

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