On the Road
Ah, the road movie and the bromance, two sub-genres in no danger of dying out anytime soon thanks to their ubiquity on our cinema screens. But they've been winningly cut and shut to create something altogether fresher in Walter Salles's heady adaptation of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation touchstone On the Road.
As soon as Control’s Sam Riley, as narrator Sal Paradise (and Kerouac stand-in), begins, in a wheezing 40-Marlboro-a-day rasp, to wax poetic in voiceover about those wandering seraphim Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) who “burn, burn, burn like Roman candles across the night,” you'll be transported back to your crater-faced teenage reading days. The Beat language may now be archaic on the page, but this world of highway philosophers and Benzedrine-fuelled hedonism feels vital on the screen.
Salles and Into the Wild cinematographer Eric Gautier’s hand-held visuals are a sensual whirl of textures and emotions, as fluid and free form as Keuroac's prose. This intimate camerawork means we, like our proxy, Sal, get to experience the Beat typhoon vicariously through his free-spirited chums, and life on the road has rarely been more inviting – initially at least. Scene by scene these episodic vignettes of beautiful people in motion to an insistent jazz score bring to mind a Gap ad, but they have a haunting cumulative effect; like the period's music, it's simultaneously upbeat and melancholic. The excellent cast pull off a similar emotional dichotomy: watch Hedlund's face switch from joy to despair as his party animal character's feverishly described anecdote about a four-way orgy reaches a wistful climax.
The film's most welcome update to the original text is giving extra dimensions to the womenfolk caught up in Sal and Dean's unconsummated love affair. Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams and a never better Kristen Stewart bring dignity and humanity to their small roles as the human fallout from the Beat boys’ adventures. Film critics love to bang on about unfilmable novels. Sallas’s sexy, funky, freewheeling effort isn’t just a successful adaptation, it’s that rarest of cinematic delights: an improvement on the book. [Jamie Dunn]