Salles Finds Cinematic Life in Kerouacís On the Road
ďThe only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn . . .Ē
--- Sal Paradise, Jack Kerouacís On the Road
Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund in On the Road © IFC Films
It had to be daunting for The Motorcycle Diaries and Central Station director Walter Salles when he decided the time was ripe to tackle author Jack Kerouacís landmark novel On the Road. Working again with screenwriter Josť Rivera, the filmmaker spent years traveling the back roads and unknown highways the United States trying to ascertain whether the world described in that beatnik masterpiece still existed, all the while attempting to craft some sort of character-driven, more or less linear narrative that could in fact be transformed into something cinematic.
While not entirely successful, Salles and Rivera have still managed something rather remarkable with their version of On the Road. The characters sing out and soar, the emotions resonate and the story stirs within the inner imagination long after the theatre itself has darkened and the screen has faded to black. This story captivated me, held me within its tight embrace, Kerouacís saga of youth in revolt breathlessly searching for the new the now and the next as potent today as it ever was during its publication heyday.
It helps that theyíve cast things to perfection, not just the two main roles of storyteller Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and reckless free-spirited Westerner Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), but also the important secondary characters as well. Kristen Stewart shines as the emotionally out-of-whack yet sneakily intelligent Marylou, while Kirsten Dunst mesmerizes as her far more mature doppelganger Carolyn. Also making indelible imprints are Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, Tom Sturridge, Elisabeth Moss and Danny Morgan, each of them popping up now and again as Paradise hits the road and discovers the American frontier all for himself.
The look of the film is aces. Working on a minimal budget and a frenzied production schedule, Salles and cinematographer …ric Gautier (A Christmas Tale, Into the Wild) have still managed to fashion a visual milieu thatís instantly captivating. They capture the spirit and essence of Kerouacís world in a way Iíd never have thought possible, the rat-a-tat-tat rhythms of the dialogue coupled brilliantly with the images flying by an automobiles windows.
Iím starting to feel bad for being so lukewarm in regards to Hedlund when TRON: Legacy came out. The guy is once again terrific, close to Oscar-worthy (even though the chances of a Supporting Actor nom lie somewhere between thin and none), his presence felt continually whether or not heís even on the screen. The guy has machismo to spare yet at the same time colors it with a painful nondescript pathos thatís undeniably heartbreaking. His journey in many ways is the heart and soul of the piece, Paradiseís realization that he must no longer follow his friend and supplement his emotional handicaps as devastating here as it ever was in the actual book itself.
I will admit that my initial reaction to On the Road was nowhere near this ecstatic. I was conflicted as to what exactly my opinion of the film was, unsure how I felt about its circular journeys and the way it fearless flew in the face of conventional storytelling. But Salles had me in the palm of his hand right from the start, and the more I kept pondering the film the more I realized just how great it actually was. Much like Kerouacís novel itself, the movie has kept burning inside of me, and weeks later the only thing I want is the opportunity to see it again.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ (out of 4)