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On The Road

Based on the generation-defining novel by Jack Kerouac

Rambling, episodic, aimless, vague. You can throw all of these words at Walter Salles’s On The Road. They might sound like criticisms, but they are the point. The movie can’t help but ramble if it wants to honour the whole ethos of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 Beatnik travelogue, but it isn’t shy about weighing up his achievement, either. It’s partly a gorgeous and textured film of his book, partly a hidden biopic about why he wrote it. The first line isn’t what Sal (Sam Riley) says on the page – ‘I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up’ – but what Kerouac wrote in an earlier draft: ‘I first met Dean not long after my father died.’ It’s a significant change, and key to what Salles and his Motorcycle Diaries screenwriter José Rivera are trying to do. We’re watching scenes from a book that hasn’t been written yet. The ending, with Sal sitting at his typewriter to recap everything about his life with Dean (Garrett Hedlund) – the carousing, the night drives, the periods apart – is perfect, and capable of unleashing a flood of emotion towards these characters that we barely think possible along the way. Some films only coalesce right at the end, and the closing moments here are so spellbindingly sad that I was instantly keen to see it again. The supporting cast is tremendous: Kristen Stewart’s restless child-bride, Viggo Mortensen’s Burroughs surrogate and Kirsten Dunst’s trapped Camille all make vivid impressions, as does Tom Sturridge’s funny, lonely Carlo (the Ginsberg figure). Out in front, Hedlund is a gritty revelation, desperate and magnetic. Dean’s constant need for sex is understood as a sign of damage, part of the same compulsion that sends him all over America, bouncing between wives. If Riley is less commanding, his relative blandness makes strange sense, because Sal’s always in thrall to his buddy – only half a person, unformed until he decides to write. Working with the wonderful French cinematographer Eric Gautier (Into The Wild), Salles summons a twilit America where wanderlust is an ache, an addiction, and a kind of madness. It’s a tempting vortex to disappear into, for these rootless young people bored by the conventional options of living. The Kerouac mythology can be a chore if you don’t get it, of course, and I’ve often thought myself more or less immune. This alluring and honest treatment proved me wrong. – Tim Robey, The Daily TelegraphOfficial Trailer
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Directed by: 
Walter Salles
Running Time: 
Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Tom Sturridge
Screenplay by: 
José Rivera Based on the novel by Jack Kerouac

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