Film Review: On the Road (Lionsgate; 2012)

By Darren McCullins

Walter Salle’s long awaited film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s heroic autobiographical cult novel On the Road has finally hit the big screen. Seen as bold ground to step on for most fans of the novel – a novel most who read it grow to hold sacred – Salle has managed to craft a beautiful film. With sceptics waiting around dark corners to pounce on any dissatisfying detail, a sense of calmness is clear and the production, against all odds, has not done the book an injustice.

On the Road tells the tales of the liberated Beat Generation of the post-war 1940’s through young writer Sal Paradise and his interactions with the freest of spirits in Dean Moriarty. Travelling the roads and cities of the U.S on a whim, with little care for the social rules that blockade their desired lives, this is a story of inspiration.

Sex, drugs, love encounters and hitchhiking is where the main melodies lie, the highs and ultimately the lows experienced through each event are expertly portrayed through the powerful use of narrative, tension and some fine acting; Sam Riley is convincing as Sal, Kristen Stewart manages to pull enough facial expressions to fulfil the demands of young, e

xcitable Mary-Lou, whilst Garrett Hedlund steals the show as Dean Moriarty.

Running for just over two hours, On the Road delves deeper than expected into Kerouac’s real-life. The linking of author and his characterised self (Sal) within the movie is inspired: the first line of narration uttered by Sal- “I first met Dean not long after my father died”, is taken from an earlier draft of the novel, switching with the reference to his divorce as is read in print. This, alongside the ending scene of Sal pounding at his typewriter, lifts the viewer out of and away from the book so that essentially, we feel as if we are following a story that is yet to be clacked into the typewriter of a young writers-block victim.

Some may describe the film as ‘rambling’ – as it does jump about from scene to scene. This however, to the Kerouac fan, is not a criticism- this is the essence of the book, the rampage of young people tremendously excited with youth.  It is what has grabbed the attention of the many generations who have picked up the book, and it is what the fans of the novel will love about this adaptation.

As a massive fan of On the Road, I approached this film with caution.  I said ‘no matter what I wouldn’t let it ruin the book for me’.  It turns out I needn’t have worried.  Walter Salle has done an impressive job in delivering an artistic and entertaining tip of the hat to the one of the greatest relics of the ‘beat’ generation.  Well worth the ticket and the time.