Aug 17, 2012
On the road 
On the 16th of August, I had the pleasure to attend the UK Premiere of On the road at the Somerset House, which is a great location. No, I wasn't invited and no, I didn't mingle with the celebrities or the press- I bought my own ticket and saw the film with all the rest of normal people. It was actually very nice. There were no chairs, so everyone had to bring their own blanket and/or pillows from home, and they allowed food and drinks brought from outside, so basically everyone came for a picnic and a film viewing- absolutely lovely.The place was packed by the time the three actors (Danny Morgan, Tom Sturridge, Sam Reily) were presented. They didn't talk too much, but it was nice to have them discuss their movie experience before seeing it. P.S. Reily was one the deepest, most grave voice I have ever heard- very interesting.
On The Road is an adaptation of the famous Jack Kerouac book from the 50s about the Beat generation. It tells the story of Sal and his adventures across the United States, where he meets a wide range of interesting characters, starting with the crazy Dean Moriarty, and continuing with people like Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen), Terry (Alice Braga) or hitchhikers like Steve Buscemi. Written for screen by Jose Rivera and directed by Walter Salles, of Motorcycle Diaries fame, On The Road is a wonderful film, a very well made one, from almost all cinematic point of views, but missing in real and palpable emotion. Not perfect, but not as bad as most reviews make it to be.
The script is very faithful to the book, but doesn't quite capture its madness and sense of youth and adventure, so overall it leaves you a little bit unsatisfied. That is probably the thing that set off all the not so lukewarm reactions from critics. Even I, after seeing it, had to think for a long hour why it didn't impress me- what was missing? why wasn't it all that? I think as much as he tried, Salles couldn't properly transmit Jack Kerouac's world to the screen. I don't mean that visually or from an acting point of view- no, those aspects were very beautiful, it just didn't have the complete vibe of the Beat era, at least that is what I thought (I did read the book 2 years ago).
Taking that aside, I thought everything else was simply wonderful and very beautiful to watch. The direction, and I think I can easily include the cinematography in this description, as well, were on the same page as the era, the vibe of the story and its characters- a little careless, full of light and colors, but also shadows and darkness. One of the things I loved about it is the fact that it managed to highlight the actors' performances: the close-ups showing us the unexpected moments of sadness and desperation (Kristen Stewart melancholic realizations in the car as the hitchhiker sings, or the fantastic ending shot of Garrett Hedlund on the streets of New York), the wide shots of the places and situation in which the protagonists were faced with- everything worked very well and helped us understand them much better and see beyond the youthful exuberance that drove them forward. The score/soundtrack of the 40s and 50s, paired with the sets and the costumes, recreated the Beat years and immersed the audience into the period, showcasing the wonderful mad group in the perfect light.
Casting-wise, I think Salles chose the right people for the job. If you research the whole story behind the making of the film, you will find out that there were a lot of A listers lined up for it: Marlon Brando, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and so on, but when Salles came on board, he insisted he wanted unknown actors for the main parts and I think his choice was better for the film overall.
Sam Reily, as Sal Paradise, the lead character, did a great job, showing us a calm, intelligent, patient personality, but one in constant need for love, attention and friendship- I really liked the way he portrayed his attraction and fascination with Dean, although the book suggests an even more sexual connection with the wild man.
Garrett Hedlund, as the devil rallying up everyone, was probably the stand out of the cast, and with good reason, since his character is the most complex of them all. Yes, Moriarty may seem just like a crazy bastard, but deep down there is someone else out there waiting to come out, and he does, from time to time. Garrett perfectly portrays the part and shines in most of his scenes. I especially loved the one in Sal's house, when he confesses to his friend that he is lost, that he doesn't know how to calm down or what he really wants- the way he goes from a sad, melancholic state to crazy retelling of a sex orgy, back to the sense of misery he hides in his soul- it was just fantastic, at least in my eyes. If the movie does well and gets attention, you can definitely expect award nominations for him (I will be rooting for him all the way, I have been a fan of his for a long time).
Most are probably wondering about Kristen Stewart. What can I say? She did a good job, although there are still traces of Bella, actually of plain old Stewart, still there- I'm referring to the rapid blinking, hand through her hair and other typical KStew mannerisms. But she does shows us a different side of her in some scenes, as she is required to perform in several sex scenes, displaying a wild, slightly nymphomaniac personality. She doesn't go all the way, as in the book, but the effort must definitely be appreciated. I think she shines more in the second half, as her character grows and faces more challenges there.
Other two performances I really enjoyed were by Kirsten Dunst and Tom Sturridge. Dunst has the experience, beauty and charisma, and those three elements made it rather easy for her to shine; it blew KStew out of the park. Also, she had great chemistry with Hedlund, I can definitely see why they're dating now. As for Sturridge, I just loved him and his character- he is so poetic, sweet and naive, just a man looking for love and attention and the perfect poem. There is one scene where he talks with Sal about his feelings towards Dean and what he wants from life- one of my favorite from all the film, he acted it wonderfully.
There are also a lot of cameos/short apperances by world class actors: Terence Howard, Steve Buscemi (in a disturbed sex scene), Elisabeth Moss, Alice Braga, and of course, the creme de la creme, Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams, who portrayed pure madness and quirkiness, in a memorable and entertaining way. You will definitely be a little surprised by Adams, but in a good way. Overall, Reily, Hedlund and Dunst stand out, but my surprise was definitely Tom Sturridge- quite the revelation, I loved him!
Before coming to the conclusion, I have to give a warning for the prudes: you should expect a lot of drugs (marijuana and benzedrine) and sex scenes- there are many of them, but never over the top or too long (with the exception of the San Francisco one, which I cringed because it just took too much to show one obvious thing).
On The Road is a great film, based on an even better book, that deserves your attention and patience. It's wonderfully made and perfectly acted (well, for most parts), and although it doesn't quite reach the level of madness and beauty of the Beatnik era, it's a lovely attempt. Go watch it if you have the chance!