55 years on, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is still regarded by many as one of the greatest pieces of American literature and the bible of the ‘Beat Generation’. Many attempts at a film adaptation have been made, but unfortunately none have ever come about. The film’s production rights have been juggled between many players, finally landing in the hands of Francis Ford Coppola in 1979, where they would lie in waiting until now.
The film focuses on Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) as he sets off on a journey across America to find inspiration for his next book. Luckily he finds it in the form of Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a man who never yawns or utters a commonplace thing, a man mad to live and a man that Sal will now do nearly anything for. The two men work, charm and steal their way across the continent, dabbling in all the delights available to them; especially women and drugs.
One such woman is Dean’s girlfriend Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart. Known for her role as Bella in The Twilight Saga, Marylou is quite the opposite and is likely to shock those looking for something similar. This time she plays a young girl helplessly infatuated with Dean Moriarty, at the same time as playing temptress to Sal. Her role is more like the one she played in Welcome to the Rileys, another film worth watching for those who want to appreciate her work outside of Twilight.
On The Road may be a period film but that isn’t to say that it relies on old cars, costume design and dusty sets. Walter Salles has attempted to capture the mood of a generation disenfranchised from its predecessor, and on the whole it is a good attempt; employing music as the main vehicle.
With regards to the film’s music, the soundtrack is a beat poet’s dream. From walking double bass groves to tenorman solos, each scene is matched perfectly to the sounds of the time. Riley delivers his raspy monologues over pockets of cool jazz, each occurrence almost a beat poem itself; something which is by no means an accident. As Dean himself would say – they got “it”.
As you would expect from a film documenting two men’s journey across the North American continent, the scenery is beautiful; and the techniques that present this to us are equally impressive. The screen is saturated with as many vivid and different colours, as there are different people they meet. A paticular highlight is a fog grey Golden Gate Bridge, its towers and wires pulsing to a heartbeat from the screen.
Although the film is a book adaptation, don’t let this put you off. It is a very good film that deserves a fair share of praise in itself; definitely worth watching on the big screen (if only for the landscapes). However, don’t miss the opportunity to read the book either; chances are you’ll enjoy it even more than the film.
Image from The Guardian website.