Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Empire's New Tom Cruise Cover
The Jameson Empire Awards 2014
Vote: The Greatest 301 Movies Of All Time!
Rebecca Hall:
My Movie Life

The actress picks the movies that shaped her
Mountain Dew Green Screen
Register Now to see X-MEN First Class!
Empire Blogs
Under The Radar

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Cannes 2012: On The Road

Posted on Wednesday May 23, 2012, 17:09 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Cannes 2012: On The Road

On The Road is one of those films that almost feels like a disappointment when it finally rolls around, being the kind of mythical project that is always talked about and yet never, ever seems to materialise. Rumour always had it that Francis Ford Coppola wasn't about to let go of it, and even with Walter Salles taking over the reins, it has taken almost two years since the start of shooting to reach Cannes. The good news is that it is a pretty good movie – in fact, probably as good as it ever was likely to be. The bad, but by no means disastrous, news is that the book was unfilmable for a reason. Like his friend William S Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Kerouac's book, published in 1957, was a literary phenomenon not only because of its portrayal of a new postwar subculture (the Beat Generation) but because of its rich, vernacular language (there is a LOT of voiceover here). Salles nails the first part but the film, being a film, can't match the latter. I don't much like his writing, but Kerouac had a unique voice, and that voice sold his readers on his – possibly exaggerated – tale of life on the road with Neal Cassady. Sadly, his loose, jazz-infused, poetic style is not always well reflected by Salles's classicism.

The casting surprised me, but after his really not very good performance in the really not very good Brighton Rock, Sam Riley makes a solid and believable Sal Paradise, Kerouac's alter ego. True to the book, it starts with his meeting – or is it obsession? – with Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund, channelling the perhaps a bit more rock'n'roll Cassady) in '40s New York. Paradise, grieving his gruff, working-class father, lives in an apartment above a corner store with his Quebecois mother but moves with a bohemian crowd, and so Moriarty represents everything that he yearns to be, which is free. Moriarty is rootless and guiltless (his wife Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart, is just 16 when the movie begins), and Paradise follows this be-bop drifter on a coast-to-coast trip across America, searching for his real, artistic identity and trying to break a bad case of writer's block.

That, pretty much, is it; On The Road is a very beautiful series of vignettes, but it is a series of vignettes all the same. Surprisingly for a 2hr 20 movie there are no obvious drags, but there are two definite pit-stops, which Salles fills in with surprisingly flat montages. The period detail is very good, mind, and the film does accurately reflect Kerouac's social set, from the gay, garrulous Carlo (Tom Sturridge beautifully channelling Allen Ginsberg*) to the sardonic, cynical Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen beautifully channelling Burroughs*). Salles doesn't stint on the sex and drug front, explicitly showing their speed use and promiscuous sex lives, but, disappointingly, he fails to fully address the gay/homoerotic elements of the Beat generation, a topic that will never go away.

This is worth stating since, like the book, the film doesn't have any interesting female characters; they wash, take drugs (provided by the men), scrub, fuck and, inconveniently, have children, and one of the problems with making On The Road nowadays is how glaringly dated that all is. Stewart and Dunst have the most thankless tasks, and yet, in trying to update the story by not indulging Paradise's hero-worship as much as the book does, Salles undercuts the film's dramatic power. Moriarty – played with charm and electricity by Hedlund – is judged too readily, and even Paradise cools on him way too early for us to be much moved by the outcome. As for the one, single explicit gay sex scene (involving Hedlund and Steve Buscemi!), it comes with a very judgemental edge that doesn't really sit very well in a film celebrating liberation and fluidity.

It does have an energy, though, and it's interesting to see that period through a modern filter (for me, it was a golden age when kids read difficult books and listened to even more difficult music with love and gusto). So although it's not exactly straight out the fridge, daddy-o, I would say that it is, to a degree, hip, smart and striking enough to function as a superior, engaging lit-pic. But two questions remain. First, why wasn't this film made in the early 70s, when the rather more worldly free-spirit attitudes would have made it a much more fascinating time capsule than this? And second, how come all films made of “unfilmable” novels end with the writing of that book?

* I know what I'm talking about.

Login or register to comment.

Comments

1 Bighousewill
Posted on Thursday May 24, 2012, 13:00
I read the book I think I will dig it out and read it again, I love the beat generation and the spirit of it the jazz the homoerotic undertones. I was thinking about this book when I watched James Franco in 'Howl' that was a lit film too about the beat generation, James Franco plays the gay writer Ginsberg who knew Kerouac. On the is a challenging read it is a bit of rant and difficult to make into a film. I am disappointed to read that the gay scenes are bit judgmental in the film as in the book Kerouac is obsessed with a man if I remember rightly but he is not gay anyway when I was like 17 read On the Road so only bits stick in my memory drugs,sex, alcohol, grape picking, road trips, jazz so I want to read it again. I think this film would've been difficult to make in the 70's to be honest because the whole crew and cast would've been constantly high and the film would've been a mess and gay attitudes were different maybe I'm wrong.

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (432)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (56)

Words From The Wise (33)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
By Helen O'Hara

Are iPads And Smartphones Changing The Face Of Filmmaking?
By Ben Kirby

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
By Helen O'Hara

My Encounter With Shia LaBeouf
By James White

Empire Meets Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Rush’ Alter Ego
By Ally Wybrew

The Case For The Wolf Of Wall Street, Surprisingly Feminist Film
By Helen O'Hara

The Movie Drinking Games Too Dangerous To Attempt
By Helen O'Hara

Screen To Stage: From Here To Eternity
By Helen O'Hara

There's No Pixar Film In 2014. Here Are 7 Steps To Help You Survive The Wait
By Helen O'Hara

‘Is Jackie Chan Dead?’ And Other Amazing Film Questions From Google’s Auto-Suggest Function
By Ali Plumb


RECENT COMMENTS

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"what..??!! THIS is news to me..all i've been hearing bout this movie's NOTHING but terrific...  Avengers12
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Chris Evans and the entire fucking film is boring, and THAT's the problem, not the character."  Jonny24
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Because people are idiots? ;) Earnestness, honesty and a hopeful attitude are jus"  spideed2
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Captain America is not boring. Steve Rogers is boring. It's nearly impossible to "  doug64
Read comment

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
"Nice to see this review pop up - I was wondering if you'd been to see it, Helen... I agree with most"  gumphd
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"It's not that the film version of Captain America is uncool, it's the comic book character as resurr"  dansator
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I meant to say "I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned, which some folks think is "  coyoteone
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned and boring, and frankly, I'm sick of this trend "  coyoteone
Read comment

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
"Thanks for writing about this - I was thinking about going to see it but maybe not now. I remember t"  Mpyrereader
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Just back from seeing The Winter Solider and for me it's the best of the Marvel films so far. The se"  LustForLeith
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Movies’ Most Quotable Lines
566 comments

'It's Just A Bit Of Fun': Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News For Movies
361 comments

Competitive Geek Baiting: Or, How To Start A Fanboy Fight
338 comments

The Avatar Backlash: Evaluatin' The Hater-atin'
303 comments

The Complete List Of Tired Movie Cliches
286 comments

Your Favourite Animated Film
217 comments

Note To Hollywood: How To Get People To Switch To Blu-Ray
192 comments

Food For Thought
132 comments

The Ten Moviegoing Commandments
127 comments

Just The Facts, Ma’am
127 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (295)
Helen O'Hara (166)
James Dyer (85)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (54)
James White (28)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Making Of Locke: A Filmmaker's Journey
Steven Knight takes us through six pitstops (via Heston Services)

The 10 Most Exciting Movies At Cannes 2014
Empire's pick of the Croisette's finest

Tom Hardy: A Viewer's Guide
The essential, the recommended, the one for the fans... and the one to avoid

Ten Things To Know About The Spooks Movie
Under the hood of The Greater Good

Who’s In Spider-Man’s Sinister Six?
A bluffer’s guide to the planned spin-off from the Amazing Spider-films

14 YouTube Videos Every Game Of Thrones Fan Should Have Watched By Now
From goats singing the theme tune to every death in under three minutes

Hollywood's Biggest Names On Their Favourite Films
Stars and directors like Nolan, Whedon, Wright and Ford on the films that inspire them

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save money on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get Limited Edition Collectable X-Men Art Cards

Subscribe today and get 6 issues of Empire plus a set of collectable X-Men Art Cards for only £20!

Subscribe today

Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Just £25
Receive limited edition subscribers-only covers every month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)