June 8, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 51°F


Review: ‘On The Road’ channels classic Kerouac style

Coming in as a fitting precursor to this summer’s “The Great Gatsby” is another adaptation of a decades-old novel, “On The Road.” Capturing the beat-generation fiction of Jack Kerouac’s original novel of the same name, “On The Road” is both entertaining and meaningful.

The plot of the film is told in a non-linear fashion as it follows the lives of friends Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) as they travel across the country with Moriarty’s ex-wife, Marylou (Kristen Stewart). As the trio moves along, their free love and easy-going lifestyle lead them to encounter a myriad of interesting characters. At the same time, Sal, a writer, is struggling with writer’s block and crippling feelings of inadequacy. Likewise, Dean combats his own emotional issues, which suggest an escapist motivation for his journey.

The film’s acting performances are, across the board, phenomenal. Hedlund brings believable and enticing confidence that fittingly helps the audience fall in love with his character. During the prolonged segments of car travel in the film, Riley shines through his memorable ability to connect with any character he is interacting with. In the sex scenes involving Riley, Hedlund and Stewart, Riley gives the impression that he is not only acting on sexual impulse but also seeking comfort. In this respect, his sexual acts are more than just satisfying arousal or loneliness, but instead come off as a complex mix of motivations that are distinctive and intriguing.

In the realm of the supporting characters, the one clear standout among all of the others is Tom Sturridge with his engaging portrayal of Carlo Marx. Sturridge’s character, a depiction of real life Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, is energetic in all the right places and contributes meaning to each scene. During the film’s romping New Year’s Eve party scene, Sturridge’s energy and his penultimate speech on appreciating life drives the moment as the film’s primary takeaway message.

Director Walter Salles crafts a compelling pace that helps to push the drawn-out plot into a concise and quickly moving story. At the same time, some of the emotional moments are lost as a result of the quick cuts, but in the end, the directorial decision is well worth the end result and creates a truthfully intricate adaptation of the book. Salles’ does not censor the sexual presence in the story, which was such a large part of the novel, and, in fact, emphasizes it.

By being open about what many might deem as risqué, Salles is able to intensify the free-love mantra that was such a strong element in the beat generation movement.

Overall, “On The Road” is a definite must-see film that is so captivating it may inspire any who have not read the classic novel to pick it up and those who have to reread it with a revived vigor.

3 and a Half Stars

Talented cast and directing offer a compelling film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel, “On The Road.”