Monday, August 19, 2013

Now on Netflix: On the Road (2012)

On the Road movie poster Kristen Stewart
On the Road (2012) - Directed by Walter Salles; Written by Jose Rivera; Starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Elisabeth Moss, Steve Buscemi, Terence Howard.

By Kenny Howell

On the Road has been one of the most influential American novels for over half a century, but this is really the first attempt to get it on screen.

There is a reason that it hasn't done before. It's not a book that lends itself well to adaptation. It's episodic, and what really drives it is Jack Kerouac's prose, just the overall picture he paints of the Beat Generation, and post-World War II America.

When you take the majority of Kerouac's writing out of the story, it becomes quite different. He really breathed life into a lost generation of people who were coming out of the horrible atrocities of World War II, and buried themselves in drugs, sex and jazz. Walter Salles' version just seems really sad. It also, like many other Beat Generation depictions, calls attention to itself too much, as the characters seem to realize how fascinating they are, despite being right in the middle of the time that would make them legendary artists, not after. And that kind of makes me hate them because of that grand sense of self-importance, which I am not sure they had.

To that point, most of the people in the story are crazy in some sense of the word. That is why Kerouac liked them, and found them interesting, because they were very free people that lived by their own rules. It is probably easier in a book to develop that craziness than it is to show some characters screaming in an alley, acting like animals for a scene. It seems like they are telling the audience too much that they are insane. The only people that probably played it right were Viggo Mortensen (Jauja) and Amy Adams (Man of Steel), who were Old Bull Lee and Jane, but in real life were William S. Burroughs and Joan Vollmer. Both were probably the most far gone of the crew, but they are the most restrained of the cast. I wish we would have got to spend more time with them.

Beside the work of Mortensen and Adams, there are things I like about the movie. I think that Sam Riley (Byzantium) as Sal Paradise/Jack Kerouac is a pretty solid lead, almost being the straight man to the weirdos around him, as much as he could be at least. Kristen Stewart (Camp X-Ray), who it's fun to make fun of for people because she was in the Twilight films, reminds you that she can do good work when she is asked. And some sequences are better than others. It just wasn't enough. Salles had a tall order on his hand with the adaptation, but if you want to see a better road movie from him, check out his film about the early life of Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries.

On the Road is currently streaming on Netflix Instant.

Rating: **

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