From the sparse rural landscapes of the Midwest to the grungy city limits of New York and San Francisco, Walter Salles
' vibrant adaptation of Jack Kerouac
's classic 1940s-set novel On The Road
brings the great American road trip to vivid life on screen.
On a less superficial level, this post-war drama captures the spirit of a brewing counter-culture of sex, drugs and jazz, and touches on questions about the meaning of life, manhood and morality.
Wannabe writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley
) doesn't feel like he's going anywhere – until he meets hedonistic wanderer Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund
). Sex, drugs, dancing, jazz – Dean is a slave to instant gratification, and brings Sal out of his shell.
Sal, Dean, and Dean's 16-year-old frequently topless wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart
) embark upon an aimless trip across America in search of kicks. Along the way, they encounter a number of bizarre characters like Viggo Mortensen
's drugged-up guru-like figure Old Bull Lee, and a hilariously frumpy Amy Adams
as his lizard-baiting wife Joan, down in New Orleans.
Some audiences will feel clearly alienated by the freewheeling, often plotless adventures of these thrill-seeking nomads. However, there is so much going on in this 124-minute-long descent into debauchery that you're likely to take something away from either the rich characters or the grand, beautifully captured backdrop of an intoxicating yet unforgiving America.
Walter Salles, who directed The Motorcycle Diaries
, teeters between the open world of a travelogue and the introverted struggles of characters in stunted growth. He spends too much time on Sal and his writer's block, and not enough time unravelling Dean's spiritual allure.
But, the cast pull off the difficult-to-adapt material with verve. The biggest name, of course, is Kristen Stewart
. On The Road
marks another accomplished, nuanced performance from an actress too often pigeonholed as "that sulky Twilight
girl" (and in real life, "cheater"). Marylou is slowly fleshed out, revealing a complex young woman who "gets it" more than the lost souls around her.
Garrett Hedlund, formerly seen in TRON: Legacy
, is genuinely charismatic as Dean, but Sam Riley is bland and stunted as Sal (his scratchy voice-overs don't help).
Other bit-players include Kirsten Dunst
, Mad Men
's Elisabeth Moss
and Boardwalk Empire
's Steve Buscemi
For the most part, On The Road
is on the right track. All it needs is slightly more direction.
WATCH: On The Road trailer
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