Tuesday 16 January 2018

On the road to nowhere

Gavin Burke

On The Road

(16, general release, 124mins)

Director: Walter Salles. Stars: Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Elisabeth Moss.


Shaved of 20 minutes or so after its inauspicious Cannes reaction, Walter Salles's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's beatnik classic still feels about 90 minutes too long and there's one reason for that: nothing happens.

New York, 1947, and wannabe writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley, he of the thousand-yard stare) struggles for inspiration.

That all changes when he's introduced to the wild cat that is Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund, Tron: Legacy), who drags Sal into a world of smoky jazz clubs, benzedrine-fuelled nights and sexual abandon.

When Dean leaves for Denver with his 16-year-old promiscuous wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart, choosing another role that's a million miles from Twilight), a lonely Sal follows and the unlikely trio (eventually) traipse the highways of America looking for kicks.

On The Road has never made it to the big screen before because the story doesn't fit into conventional film structure; acts and sequences can be damned as the plot, if one was feeling generous enough to call it that, doesn't unfold in typical fashion.

Sal moves to Denver and then on to pick cotton in California, before returning to New York where he hangs about until Dean and co show up, before it's back across America and then down to Mexico, and so on.

The characters, interesting though they may be, aren't given anything to do: it's hard to root or care about a character when they don't want anything.

It's easy to see why Salles championed this adaptation; on the surface it's similar to his Motorcycle Diaries (road movie, social commentary), but Sal is no Che Guevara, there's no epiphany, no connection with the everyday working types Sal meets on the road. It's all about booze and drugs.

The poor movie won't hurt those on screen, however, as Riley, Stewart and particularly Hedlund, who manages to make the largely detestable Dean somewhat endearing, engage.

Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss and Steve Buscemi are relegated to the briefest of cameos.

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