Walter Salles

On the Road Movie

Editor’s note: On the Road cruises into limited release this Friday, so put your brains into gear and enjoy this re-run of our Cannes review, originally published on May 23, 2012. Some books demand adaptation, offering immediate and easily translatable promise as film projects, whether that is thanks to the power of the plot, or characters or certain ideas that would lead to a looser adaptation. Jack Kerouac‘s seminal “On The Road” is not one of those books – like the work of James Joyce, the book is explicitly literary, its content inherently bound by its form and its author so fundamentally a writer before a storyteller that many, including myself, believed it to be unadaptable. In that context, the presence of Walter Salles‘ adaptation, imaginatively called On The Road, on the In Competition list here always stood out as an intriguing prospect. How would the director who made that other road movie The Motorcycle Diaries cope with the very specific problem of adapting something that is so explicitly literary? The answer, unfortunately, is not well. For a tale which so obviously values hedonism and free expression, On The Road is ultimately joyless and unengaging, and for a self-discovering road movie to fudge the journey so much and lose almost all lasting meaning is downright criminal.

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If you’ve ever spent any extended time in a coffee shop or a freshman dorm, chances are you’ve seen a good number of young people with open hearts and confused eyes dutifully thumbing through the pages of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” It’s one of those books you just have to get into when you’re coming of age, like “The Catcher in the Rye,” or, if you’re a sociopath, Ayn Rand’s stuff. Given the book’s enduring popularity, it’s strange that it’s taken so long for Hollywood to make a big screen adaptation, but, nevertheless, the wait is over, and the first trailer for the film is here. How does it look? Well, it looks like director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and his camera crew have shot a beautiful film. And seeing as the narration put over this trailer quotes one of the most famous passages from Kerouac’s novel, it looks like he’s made a film that’s very much On the Road. This seems to be a straight adaptation; the essence of the book put up on the screen, without any unexpected detours.

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Based on Jack Kerouac’s novel of the same name, On The Road begins in 1947 in New York City, where a young writer, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), finds himself introduced to the larger-than-life Dean Moriarty (played with charm and conviction by Garrett Hedlund.) Thanks to Dean’s slightly “mad” outlook on life, Sal thinks that spending time with him may lead to some good stories — and hopefully fix his current writer’s block. But more than that, Dean reminds Sal of someone. As their relationship grows, Sal gets more and more embroiled in Dean’s life, and instead of simply observing and being around it Sal starts to become an integral part of it. When Dean decides to move back to Denver to win back his young wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart), Sal takes him up on his offer to join him. As a “young writer trying to take off,” Sal literally takes off, hitchhiking his way across the country and meeting even more interesting characters and jotting more and more notes in his tiny notebooks along the way. Once in Denver, Sal finds himself quickly falling into Dean’s life of sex, drugs, and jazz, and the line between reality and fantasy starts to blur.

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Simon has already weighed in on Moonrise Kingdom – his first Cannes film of 2012 – but we check in with him to see what 6 films he’s looking forward to the most. Plus, Movies.com’s Peter Hall faces off against Landon Palmer in the Movies News Pop Quiz, and we end up asking important questions about repertory screenings. Will the films of the future digitally last forever? Download Episode #134

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Jack Kerouac‘s “On the Road” is so thoroughly based on the beauty of language that it will be interesting to see what kind of movie it will make. It’s the kind of dream project that elicits nightmares because it’s incredibly popular, but it’s also that rare case where a book is fiercely personal no matter how many millions of people read it. Walter Salles took on the challenge, and his background in road movies certainly helps, but there are some x-factors here to be sure. Sam Riley sounds appropriately gruff and wandering in voice over in the new trailer, but the movie will also be a test of whether Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart can really act or if they can only chew gum and walk. Check it out for yourself:

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The long-gestating project might be putting its rubber to the asphalt soon. Does this mean Francis Ford Coppola is going to stop making wine?

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It was the best of times and the drug-induced times in American modern history. Stick out your thumb and dig deep into the madness.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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