Film Review – On The Road

On The Road

Directed by: Walter Salles

Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst

Two and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novel On The Road, hailed as a literary classic, had a long and bumpy trip to the big screen. Since the book was published in the 1950’s, several attempts have been made to bring it to life, with many pesky pit stops along the way causing delays. Not surprisingly, really. It can be a tricky job to adapt a book into a film. And for this iconic piece, one can assume that the film makers wanted to get it right. It almost seems a shame that this version we finally get to see fails to leave other films in its dust.

Aspiring author Sal (Sam Riley) floats around with his best mate the free-spirited Dean (Garrett Hedlund), driving cross-country, smoking weed, getting drunk and hooking up with chicks in the late 1940’s. Their journey is a tumultuous one. The charming Dean draws people from all walks of life, many of whom are left broken after having encountered him. This film chronicles their time on the road with a handful of friends, acquaintances and lovers as  they beg, borrow and plead for cash, alcohol and their next hit of drugs.

We observe Dean’s erratic behaviour through Sal’s eyes but we don’t get a glimpse of what makes him tick. Access to Sal is also neglected. We see Dean’s allure but why does Sal hang around? They seem like such an odd couple. Living these experiences vicariously through these characters is a trip in of itself but with so little substance, it quickly becomes dull. Experiences eventually begin to blur into each other.

The star-studded cast works hard, Amy Adams does loopy, Kirsten Dunst does heart-broken and Kristen Stewart does nudity. But it is Hedlund’s hypnotic performance that drives this film, albeit in first gear. The pacing is what really lets this outing down. After a promising start, it just plateaus, chugging along from one life experience to the next, most of which share the same consequences and ramifications. This road trip could only be compared to a trip across the Nullabor – long and incredibly dull and ultimately winds up getting stuck in a roundabout.

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