TIFF 2012 Review: On The Road

Based on Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining novel of the same name, On The Road is a tale of growing up, finding freedom and discovering oneself.

Adapted by Brazilian director Walter Salles and Puerto Rican screenwriter José Rivera, the film follows narrator Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), an aspiring writer who finds a muse in his charming yet irresponsible friend Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund).

Taking place over several years between the late 40s and early 50s, the film surrounds the duo’s journey along postwar America while indulging on drugs, sex and alcohol.  With Dean’s sometimes lover Mary-Lou (Kristen Stewart) joining in, the group encounter different people who evidently make life-changing effects to their trip.

But as the relationship starts to wane due to Dean’s selfish and hedonistic ways, it’s not long until Mary-Lou departs.  Leaving Sal to pick up the pieces of their often uneasy journey, he writes down his memories as he witnesses Dean get in and out of trouble with his charismatic and promiscuous ways.

With Sal serving as the stand-in to Kerouac, the film follows the adventures of the Beat Generation.  With Dean modeled after Neal Cassady, the story also features appearances by an Allen Ginsberg-like Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge).

Just over two hours long, the film includes a lot of beautiful scenery but not enough of its extensive cast of talent.  With the likes of Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and Viggo Mortensen making appearances, they each only have about five to 10 minutes of screen time despite playing their roles brilliantly.

While an ambitious project, the film often feels slow and without much of a plot. But with  Hedlund delivering a captivating performance of Dean, it’s reason enough to stay. As he  goes from cool and likeable to lost and deeply flawed, the only fascinating thing about this film is watching Hedlund play a character with so many layers.

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