Urban Cinefile
"The light clicked in my head with Beauty and The Beast - this is Phantom of the Opera"  -Bob Levin, marketing boss at Buena Vista for Disney
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



After the death of his father, aspiring New York writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), meets Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a young and dangerously seductive ex-con. Determined not to get trapped in a narrow life, the two friends burn their bridges and hit the road: thirsting for freedom they discover the world, others and ultimately themselves.

Review by Louise Keller:
The smell of marijuana, the sound of jazz, the lure of audacious sex and the click-clack of an Underwood typewriter conjure spellbinding images in this adaptation of literary giant Jack Kerouac's classic novel taking us on the road. Walter Salles delivers the meat of Kerouac's semi-biographical tale, imbuing it with all the colour and flavour of the era that epitomised The Beat Generation.

With two lesser known actors in the leading roles of the protagonist Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty working in his favour, Salles lures us into the impressionable, debauched world of an aspiring writer, whose unexplained attachment to a sex-crazed, hard-living opportunist who lives for kicks, is addictive. It's a bit like being there - on a road trip to hell and heaven - in the same breath.

When Sal (Sam Riley) hitches a ride at the beginning of the film, he is asked whether he is going some place, or whether he is just going. 'Just going,' is his honest reply. That sense of spontaneity is apparent throughout the narrative, describing the moment when Sal meets Dean (Garrett Hedlund) and how their friendship prompts a course of action as they zig-zag together around the country. It was after Salles had made The Motorcycle Diaries, that the idea for this film was conceived with both films managing to generate a sense of freedom and the feeling that anything could happen.

With the death of his father acting as a catalyst, Sal is drawn to and fascinated by bad-boy Dean, the life of the party whose sexual and drug-fuelled exploits have no limits. A blatant womanizer, on one hand, he is willing for his wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart) to participate in group sex while simultaneously juggling his relationship with Camille (Kirsten Dunst) and any other opportunities that come his way. The film canvasses their adventure-filled road trip together, when stealing cuts down the cost of living and they live a carefree gypsy-like existence, accepting zero responsibility.

It is Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, 2010) as the outrageous Dean whose excesses shock throughout, who steals the film; he is able to depict callousness and the boy next door in close succession. We love him and hate him simultaneously. You may have caught the British-born Riley as Ian Curtis in Control (2007) or more recently as Pinkie in the dour Brighton Beach (2010). Here, he fits the bill perfectly as the impressionable Sal whose view of the world is coloured by his youth, inexperience and desire to leave his mark. Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Buscemi also make an impression and Amy Adams appears in a surprising role.

With its wonderful cinematography capturing fabulous imagery, the film looks great and many scenes stick in our mind, like the one in which Dean, Marylou and Sal (stark naked) sit in the front seat as they are driving along, Marylou intent on pleasuring both men. There's a parallel resonance too with the mood depicted in The Rum Diary, although the stories are hardly similar. It's the feeling of being there that sucks you in.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Plays much like a piece of modern poetry; it doesn't rhyme, it doesn't scan, it has a jagged dynamic, makes beautiful sense one scene, confuses the next. On The Road tries to do on screen what Jack Kerouac did in prose in his iconic beat generation bible which put the 'it' in spirit. It is where everything comes together and matters; it can be great jazz, it can be a great high - but it can never really be constrained by definition. That's the point.

It's reasonable to expect that Sam Riley is the star in his role as Sal Paradise, the writer's alter ego. In fact, Garrett Hedlund steals the film as Dean Moriarty, the dangerous free spirit who lives life on full throttle - as he sees it: booze, drugs, sex and on the road to nowhere in particular. He leaves pain and heartache in his wake, but like all charming cons, you can't hate the guy. Indeed, Sal loves him as much as Dean loves Sal - and it is this relationship which gives the film its emotional hit at the end, and ultimately saves it (barely) from being merely an episodic visual rendition of the original novel.

I don't mean to diminish Sam Riley's performance, but Hedlund has the meatier role. Tom Sturridge is up there with Hedlund as Carlo Marx (the Allen Ginsberg figure) the sensitive, self-aware and almost tragic homosexual poet.

The females are all outstanding, too: Kristen Stewart as Moriarty's (shared) lover Marylou, a girl literally taken for a ride and confused by what she really wants; Kirsten Dunst as Camille, another Moriarty casualty; and Amy Adams as Jane, a vaguely deranged young woman shacking up with Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen). The latter is a cameo, but Mortensen makes it count, as does Steve Buscemi in another memorable cameo as the creepy older gay guy on the lookout for young men.

To the film's credit, every single supporting role, including the morally righteous characters of the time to the smallest non speaking part, is inhabited by credible characters. And then there is the rich, multi-faceted score, which takes in everything from traditional Mississippi blues to New York jazz, with source music covering the era (1948 - 1951).

Walter Salles is a talented filmmaker; indeed, in 2003 Britain's The Guardian listed him among the 40 Best Directors in the world, and you may well agree if you saw his poignant Central Station, or the shattering Behind the Sun. Even so, he has a struggle on his hands as he tries to wrestle the material in such a way as to give the audience something more than an odyssey for two young men. There is nothing as dull in cinema as watching characters have fun, drink, smoke pot, have sex, take Benzedrine, have sex, smoke pot, drink, take Benzedrine, have fun and generally enjoy everything endlessly. We want tension, and pain and we want emotion; we get it all - eventually.

Published February 20, 2013

Email this article

Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

(France/UK/US/Brazil, 2012)

CAST: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Elisabeth Moss, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Alice Braga, Tom Sturridge

PRODUCER: Charles Gillibert, Nathaniel Karmitz, Rebecca Yeldham

DIRECTOR: Walter Salles

SCRIPT: Jose Rivera (novel by Jack Kerouac)


EDITOR: Francois Gedigier

MUSIC: Gustavo Santaolalla


RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 27, 2012




DVD RELEASE: February 20, 2013

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020