Review of ‘On The Road’ by PopMatters!

December 26, 2012

The folks over at have written up their review for Kristen Stewart’s On The Road.

In adapting Jack Kerouac’s famously skittish book On the Road, Walter Salles has conjured a movie that’s raging and serene, always looking over the horizon while grooving on the beauty of the here and now. This is no small feat. Salles made The Motorcycle Diaries, the only other great road film of recent memory, but still, there are many ways for a Kerouac film to go bust (see The Subterraneans), and this one avoids nearly all of them. Maybe it leaves too much of the book’s kinetic language on the floor; this is a story about words almost as much as it is about movement, the road. But as these burning, dreaming, and frustrated wanderers blast back and forth across postwar America in search of what they don’t know, the smoky poetry of its wide vistas and clangorous urban buzz provide a kick, a true kick.


Kerouac’s stand-in is Sal Paradise (Sam Riley, finding a nice variation on the doomed artist he previously inhabited as Ian Curtis in Control), a would-be author living in his mother’s apartment in Queens at the end of the 1940s. He pals around with his alternately effusive and panic-stricken poet friend Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), a not-at-all veiled portrait of Allen Ginsberg. And together, they’re entranced by the volcanic presence of Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a bottle rocket of a guy who blows in from Denver and is described by Sal’s raspy and mannered narration (which sounds affectedly be-bop-ish, but is actually a decent take on Kerouac’s speaking voice) as having spent “a third of his time in the pool hall, a third in jail, and a third in the public library.”


Dean—Kerouac’s handle for his real-life obsession, Neal Cassady—is already looking to get out of New York and back to San Francisco with one girl in tow, Marylou (Kristen Stewart, getting out of her comfort zone just slightly), and a girl to marry on the other side, Camille (Kirsten Dunst). Sal hitchhikes out West with his notebook, starting the film’s racketing volleys of cross-country travel and bleary-eyed Benzedrine nights.


The sheltered and shy Sal (a Canadian who speaks a reedy French with his dour and disapproving mother, lurking powerfully in his subconscious) is wholly ready to latch on to a scrapper like Dean. Sal doesn’t care that Dean is all about the hustle (“He was conning me and I knew it, and he knew that I knew it”). It helps his appeal that Dean drives like a bat out of hell, and in lengthy scenes on the road, Salles does some of his best work, creating little visual poems out of the patter of rain on the windshield and the chatter inside.

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