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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"On the Road", Half the Trip

On the Road

Very important remark. Can't think of many books as hard to adapt into a film as "On the Road". I admit the task Walter Salles assumed was enormous. It's not just having to decide where to make "the cuts" on Kerouac's "sacred" novel to make the movie flow. It's also weighing what's still meaningful or relevant for today's spectators. Plus capturing an essence, a vibe. In my modest opinion (as you know, a devoted fan of the novel) the film is interesting, but not what I was looking for.

In my opinion the biggest flaw of "On the Road", the film, is the lack of "spirit". Lifeless might be a word too strong, but Kerouac, imo, wrote his most famous book with a passion still unmatched in literature (American and worldwide literature). His prose was a torrent, a compendium of emotional bursts, the voice of anxiety, innocence (there was no cynicism on Kerouac's writings), despair, joyful madness and youth. Can't see any of that vital prose on Salles' adaptation. I always wanted to meet Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady). But not these particular Sal and Dean. The reader was absorbed by Kerouac's words. The viewer is distracted, at best, occasionally intrigued, by the movie development.

For me, the movie tries to balance, often with unfortunate results, between the most concise summary possible of the trips throughout the States (and Mexico) Sal and Dean made, and showing what was like to be a beatnik. First, in what regards to the "summary", the cuts create a disjointed and sparse film if compared with the "truth" of the book, but as I said on the first paragraph, the task of adapting "On the Road" to the screen was titanic, so I can understand that, despite it wouldn't be my choices (fidelity to the original), Salles is able to provide the film a cohesive, maybe superficial but cohesive, narrative structure.

Second, on what was like to be a beatnik, I find interesting how dark and somber the look (sex, drugs, the feeling of being lost or out of control) is in what regards to the unique couple and the relevance given to the females surrounding them. Salles gives Marylou a tremendous importance, making Kristen Stewart's role (powerful performance), the most attractive character of the film. Same can be said about Camille, played by Kirsten Dunst, despite her little amount of scenes. Both characters challenge their roles compared with what they got in the book. But these two, plus Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg), performed by Tom Sturridge, are the exceptions. The majority of characters are weak, whimsical, one dimensional. Old Bull Lee (William Burroughs), played by Viggo Mortensen and Jane (Joane Vollmer) played by Amy Adams are specially irritating.

I'm pretty sure that I wasn't going to be completely satisfied whatever the case, but I believe "On the Road" is, despite some interest, a missed opportunity. We can argue about structure or film development, and I will agree Salles was brave enough to take risks, but what's more important about Kerouac's book here is completely gone: the engagement, the fascination he provoked, and still provokes, to the readers.

SCORE: 5,75/10

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