It’s been a bumpy trip for the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel ‘On The Road’. Since its publication in 1957, bringing the works of the Beat Generation to an international audience, the sprawling road trip account has evaded dramatisation, many proclaiming the book unfilmable. Kerouac’s book functions almost like stream of consciousness on paper, following the cross-country travels of Sal Paradise (a representation of Kerouac himself) and his friendship with Dean Moriarty, an enigmatic, brilliant but troubled young man who leads Sal on a trip across the American landscape and deep into the confused male psyche of the post-war era. It’s a book that sparked an entire generation of artists and has been sighted as one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century.
All this makes the achievement of director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera all the more impressive, that their recent film adaptation of the novel is not only comprehensible but captures the thrill, the poetry and the sadness of Kerouac’s writing. The writer-director team had previously adapted the writings of the young Che Guevara into the acclaimed ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ (2004), making them the perfect team for the job. The film rambles beautifully from episode-to-episode, Sal navigating his way through the diverse and ever-changing landscapes he crosses, and a relationship with Dean and his many women constantly in flux, whilst holding the events together with Sal/Kerouac writing what will eventually become ‘On The Road’. Salles and Rivera draw from not only the novel, but from the lives of the Beat Generation themselves, creating possibly the most accurate portrait of these cult figures we’ve seen on screen so far. Salles also reunites with his ‘Diaries’ cinematographer Eric Gautier and composer Gustavo Santaolalla, who help to recreate the tone and detail of 1950s America, its earthy textures and the pervading melancholy. The cast is absolutely top-notch, led by a subtle and considered performance by Sam Riley as Sal, our gravelly-voiced narrator. Garrett Hedland practically steals the film, however, as Dean, a viscerally electrifying performance that demonstrates a talent many might not have imagined he had.
Any concerns or trepidation that might have come from the idea of the sacred bible of the Beat Generation being brought to the screen is swept away almost immediately by this accomplished, wonderful film, a minor miracle that captures the essence of not only the novel, but a time and place that seems so familiar yet so mythical. ‘On The Road’ is an instant classic, and a film that will continue to be discovered and treasured for many generations to come.
PICTURE & SOUND
As to be expected from such a recent release, Icon’s transfer is absolutely stunning, preserving the gorgeous sepia tones of Gautier’s photography. Detail is clear and vivid, blessed with a grain structure that maintains the cinematic feel of the film. Thankfully, we’re offered the film in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The DTS-HD MA track is just as dynamic and exciting, recreating the surround experience Salles and Santaolalla carefully constructed to bring the trip to life. Across the board, the presentation of ‘On The Road’ is as impressive as a film of this stature deserves.
‘On The Road’ is an instant classic.
Unfortunately, apart from a few trailers at start-up, there are no special features on this disc. Considering the history of both the source material and the production, it’s quite a disappointment. The U.S. release is yet to be announced, so no word on whether that will include any to speak of.