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On the road...to nowhere?
on 1 March 2013
I read Kerouac's novel about 30 years ago and didn't really care for it much then; my impressions were of unlikable people aimlessly looking for something indefinable - I didn't realise that this was one of the first books to question the façade of "The American Dream" and a defining picture of an alienated generation.
This film adaptation hasn't really changed my view of the novel much; Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) is a classic libertine - charismatic, self-centred, heedless of the destructiveness of his actions on the lives of others. That charisma, Dean's lust for life that so inspires Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) in the novel isn't really translated adequately onto the screen here; the film does present an unvarnished picture of the buttoned-up, conformist, politically paranoid post-war society that the Beat generation reacted against, but the adventure of self-discovery and coming to terms with adulthood that the novel expressed, isn't articulately conveyed on screen. There`s a lot of experimentation with drugs, sex, a lot of male bonding (maybe too much for some) and something of the eponymous road trips (which ironically are already a cliché before this daddy-of-`em-all got made).
In it`s favour, it's a beautifully photographed film and the music throughout is interesting and evocative (some scenes featuring atmospheric John Cage-like "melodious thunk" improvisations between bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Brian Blade deserve a special mention).
The actors acquit themselves well with the material given; there isn't much for the female cast members to work with though - like the book it`s too much of a male-orientated narrative. Kristen Stewart isn't given much chance to portray Marylou as the live-wire she should be - the part seems under-written - and Terry (Alice Braga) barely gets a look-in. Kirsten Dunst as Camille, for all the short time she appears on-screen, gives a really telling performance as the lively, intelligent young woman who comes to realise the situation she's left in after her involvement with the feckless Dean.
Viggo Mortensen as Bull Lee - based on William Burroughs - gives a suitably oddball portrayal.
I think this will probably be seen in hindsight as a somewhat underrated movie of an overrated novel; it has been a yawn-fest for some reviewers - it doesn't really convey all the novel has to say but most of it is here; I do think the emphasis of the film is downbeat though, which won't chime with those who loved the novel for its energy and passion. I`d give 3 1/2 stars if I could.
The film is presented in widescreen; there are English only subtitles. Six short deleted scenes are offered as extras.