It has taken 50 years to adapt the most paradigmatic novel of the Beat Generation, which tells the ‘life on the road’ of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (pseudonyms of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, respectively) in the America of the late 40s. Producer Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights of the book in 1979, but still he needed 25 years to find the right director, Walter Salles, who he hired after seeing his ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ in 2004.
The movie ‘On the Road’ is in fact made by the same team of ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’, another road movie that followed the early trips of a young Ernesto ‘Ché’ Guevara through the Americas. Both films share screenwriter (José Rivera), cinematographer (Eric Gautier) and composer (Gustavo Santaolalla), which ensures a solid, beautiful work but not necessarily a thrilling one.
Filmmaker Walter Salles brilliantly recreates the events of the book, the era and part of the spirit of the Beat Generation, describing their bohemian existences without mystifying them, but leaves aside most of its spirit. The poetic, incandescent language of the novel is present through a well balanced voice-over, but it’s only occasionally translated into images.
The characters travel, make love, consume drugs and try desperately to experience something new. Sal Paradise says about travelling with Dean Moriarty: ‘Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.’
The book sublimates these experiences through a kind of Walt Whitman’s inspired prose; the movie describes them in a more down-to-earth, quite demystifying way. This may disappoint the fans of the novel, but results in an amusing and interesting drama; less commercial and more adult than could be expected, if a bit too long.
The main characters, Sal and Dean, are brilliantly played by almost unknown actors Sam Riley (‘Control’) and Garrett Hedlund (‘Tron: Legacy’), while the supporting cast includes well-known stars such as Kristen Stewart (‘Twilight’), Kirsten Dunst (‘Melancholia’), Viggo Mortensen (‘A Dangerous Method’) and Amy Adams (‘The Fighter’).
On the Road