“On the Road,” the great American romance that stretched from New York to San Francisco and back more than once, has been made into film for the first time. It has been more than 50 years since the publishing of the book and the release of the film offers a fresh taste of old-school fun.
The film begins with Sal Paradise hitching a ride on the back of a flatbed truck somewhere in the open air of Nebraska, vividly capturing the rustic essence of the story by Jack Kerouac.
Overall, this film jumps around without providing the smoothest ride along the epic plotline but, somehow, masterfully hits just the right spots to make the viewer believe it. The cast is star-packed, with the story’s lesser characters played by Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi and Kristen Stewart. Gasp at the thought of Stewart having anything to do with Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece, but she, too, finds a place, even with her shirt off.
Set in New York in the late 1940s, a young writer struggling to craft his first novel befriends the enthralling deviant Dean Moriarty. Moriarty is a character whose reputation for stealing cars and stirring up trouble precedes him. From there, the movie is a mad amphetamine–fueled (Benzedrine, specifically) road trip that crisscrosses the United States, dances with bebop jazz tempo and briefly embarks to Mexico.
Finally finding the inspiration he was searching for, the young writer has his story which he writes on a continuous roll of paper, so he can capture everything without stopping, a method Kerouac called spontaneous prose.
The plot of the film follows the book more-or-less but doesn’t dawdle on all the happenings of the characters fleshed out in text. Instead, the film focuses on the act and momentum of go, go, go. Many of the moments which happened in California and Denver are left out. Beat puritans and “Dharma Bums” will obviously feel defeated for the lack of observance to the broader story found in the text. However, to capture everything the film would run far past its more than two-hour length.
Sam Riley plays the part of Paradise, aka Kerouac, in the semi-autobiographical story of some of the Beat Generation’s most prolific writers and gives the film soul with rugged charm. Garrett Hedlund, who was most recently in “Tron: Legacy,” plays the part of Moriarty, aka Neal Cassady. He is the unsung hero and bastard with inspired, wild eyes who can’t seem to sit still.
The eye-catching, however, was Tom Sturridge (from “Pirate Radio,” 2009) in the role of Carlo Marx, aka Allen Ginsberg. Sturridge’s look of boyish idealism embodies the “Howl” of Ginsberg and draws the viewer into the melody of the film. While Marx is only occasionally on screen, he is the lucidity and the epiphany to the charismatic insanity of Moriarty.
Whether Beat fans prefer Riley, Hedlund and Sturridge; Paradise, Moriarty and Marx; or Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg, the same phrase Kerouac wrote is true for all of them. “... the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn ...”
The film opens this Friday at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center and will be shown through April 18.