By Anna Bielak | May 25, 2012
Director: Walter Salles
Writers: Jose Rivera (screenplay), Jack Kerouac (book)
Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Tom Sturridge, Elisabeth Moss, Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst
Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) — protagonists of Jack Kerouac’s acclaimed novel — hit the road. They travel across America from the east to west coast, back and forth. They live now and here, protest against the system, kindle their emotions and indulge in a hypnotic, sensual and narcotic journey. Before my first trip to Paris, everyone told me over and over again that I would be disappointed; that the city has nothing in common with the portraits by the painters from Montparnasse, nor is it as poetic as in the bizarre novels written by Henry Miller. Maybe it was true; however, my vision of Paris was so enormously strong that when I eventually got there, I saw the city through the prism of my imagination. I was probably feeding myself with illusions; yet I left the city contented. I got what I wanted. Today, I am pretty sure that my thoughts on the first adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (a book I love and appreciate so much!) are as twisted as they were during my first trip to Paris. But you know what? I don’t care.
Objectively speaking – Walter Salles has not directed a good movie. Lots of journalists, after the first On the Road screening at Cannes, reproached Salles for not preparing a plot that is interesting enough for the viewers. The lack of dynamic action was essential while passing a vote for censure. However, the film is too long and its style a bit too ponderous because Salles adapts the whole novel on screen, not the fragments that I appreciated in the first place. Moreover, while speaking of Kerouac’s style, one must not use the terms of classic narration. Having that in mind, it is obvious how inappropriate it is to criticize Salles’ narrative because it lacks a clear, obvious structure. Built upon the basis of stream of consciousness, the film can be no more than a chaotic picture, deeply rooted in memories and a bit detached from [cinematic] reality.
Salles’ On the Road is like a recorded experience. It is an account given of a mythical voyage on the roads of the United States. Salles transfers the sensual style of Kerouac’s prose into frames of his film. In the editing, he leaves a few reprises — the same streets, buildings, and parties. America is drifting into sunshine… There is a ginger dust above the streets; fields of cotton do not sink out of sight; pubs are gloomy and smoke-filled; hair is disheveled and bodies are sticky of sweat… There is a great precision in every single detail brought onto the road. The leading actors attract attention; they are the essence of this place. They fill it with peculiar characters; they move in leisurely ways; they are too showy or not talkative enough. Sam Riley as Sal Paradise role and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty bring a fresh blow of uncontrolled reality into this mythical beat world. Salles’ film is grueling and might be boring for some; yet, his On the Road is a tribute to Jack Kerouac’s passion, style and life. It would be unbearable not to watch it…