On The Road

WRITTEN BY: Jose Rivera
DIRECTED BY: Walter Salles
STARRING: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Tom Sturridge, Kirsten Dunst
RATING: 4 stars

On The Road is one of the world's most famous modern literary novels. It inspired a generation of artists, writers, songwriters and thinkers. It challenged youth of the 50's to not search for an explanation as to why we exist, but rather, how to exist. Since then, readers have continued to be inspired by Jack Kerouac's book, which was written in 1951 and published in 1957, and based on his own experiences with friends on several road trips. So, it makes sense that a film should be made to explore the beat generation including the intellectual conversations, jazz music, drugs, sexual exploration, poetry, and of course, the journey on the road. It is a difficult story to adapt to film, and there have been many false starts since the book was published, but finally a poignant film has been made that will satisfy fans of the novel.

Sal Paradise (Kerouac's character played by Sam Riley) is a 25-year-old aspiring writer struggling with the recent death of his father. He meets Dean Moriarty (based on beat poet Neal Cassady and played by Garrett Hedlund) a charming and adventurous ex-convict, married to 16-year-old seductress Marylou (based on LuAnne Henderson and played by Kristen Stewart). Sal and Dean bond instantly and decide to go on several road trips over the next four years. Representing so many disenchanted youths in post-World War Two America, the trio begin a journey of self-discovery and freedom. Along the way, they meet several interesting characters who all seem to gravitate towards Dean. The only problem is that Dean is more lost than any of them.

of the cast members, including Hedlund and Stewart, had been linked to the film for years before it was made. Hedlund is perfect as Moriarty. He oozes the sex appeal and charisma that drew so many people to the real man. I've long been a fan of Hedlund's and if this powerful performance does not get him more film offers then Hollywood is blind. Stewart was 20-years-old when she made On The Road in the midst of the Twilight hype. But in this film, she shows audiences that she can be more than a damsel in distress. She is brave and daring in the role and is sure to surprise people with her performance. Riley is also impressive as Kerouac's alter ego, while Kirsten Dunst portrays a heartbroken yet strong Camille (Moriarty's second wife) very well. Her character is based on Carolyn Cassady who is today aged 88. Sturridge also steals some scenes as Carlo Marx (based on poet Allen Ginsberg). There are also small but interesting roles given to Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and Terrence Howard.
My main criticism of the film is that it is far too long. It does not need to be more than two hours. There were several scenes that dragged on and needed some editing, although you can't fault director Walter Salles for wanting to share the varied landscape that included New York, Denver, San Francisco and Mexico. Fans of the novel will also be critical of some aspects of the story. However, for such a detailed novel, the film actually does a good job of depicting the most important aspects of the story. By the end of the film, some may be wondering what the point is because there isn't a clear beginning, middle and end. But, On The Road is an unconventional story. It's a chapter in the lives of real people. It's not supposed to be conclusive because life is not like that. My advice is, read the book and then watch the film.


  1. Really enjoyed this film. As a fan of the book i didn't mind the length, it would be strange to have an On The Road film that was a quick snapshot.The casting was spot on throughout. Loved Viggo as Old Bull Lee, i would have loved to see more of him. Kristen Stewart also impressed and should have no difficulty leaving Twilight behind. She has a wonderful face for the camera. Salles did a good job with a tricky book!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the film. It certainly was a tricky book to adapt and I agree Mortensen was very good.


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