Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
100 Greatest Videos Games Of All Time
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Empire Visits The Hobbit's VFX Team
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
4Music's Size Does Matter
Introducing your new favourite app
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 (439)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game Preview
By Ali Plumb

The Return Of Max Payne
By Ali Plumb

Empire's Modern Warfare 3 Multiplayer Survival Guide
By Ali Plumb

In Search Of The Ultimate Xbox Controller
By James Dyer

Hands on with El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
By Ali Plumb

Japanese gaming hero Suda 51 on his latest, Shadows Of The Damned
By Ali Plumb

Hands On: Razer Onza
By James Dyer

Empire Sits Down With The Portal 2 Writers, Gets Worryingly Excited
By Ali Plumb

Movie Karaoke, Anyone? Yoostar 2 Can Turn You Into Arnold Schwarzenegger... Kind Of
By Ali Plumb

Have You Seen The Awe-Inspiring Dead Island Trailer Yet?
By Ali Plumb


RECENT COMMENTS

Would it Work: A Legend of Zelda Movie?
"It would be hard to make the movie to what fans, such as myself, would expect, which means expectati"  Alixis93
Read comment

E3 2013: David Cage On Beyond: Two Souls
"Very excited about this game. played their previous PS3 game "Heavy Rain" which was unique"  Okester
Read comment

E3 2013: Electronic Arts
""As the event began properly, a bombastic war-themed trailer proved to be a genius parody of th"  Film2012
Read comment

Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game Preview
"I am ridiculously excited by the hope that I may have this game wrapped and with my name on it under"  MD3
Read comment

Would it Work: A Legend of Zelda Movie?
"hay look at this these guys are making a Legend of Zelda movie!!! https://www.fac"  link2point0
Read comment

Would it Work: A Legend of Zelda Movie?
"My god, I've been planning this of so long. YES it will work. And I plan to get my ideas where they "  Thinking_fanatic
Read comment

Would it Work: A Legend of Zelda Movie?
"im 50/50 on it because it has a good storyline but it depends on the game its going to copy or if th"  No_1ups
Read comment

The Return Of Max Payne
"I absolutely love the first two Max Payne games (and recently downloaded the first one - for free - "  Draven Cage
Read comment

Would it Work: A Legend of Zelda Movie?
"Maybe write a book first of a really good screen play and see how that goes."  welshcelt
Read comment

Would it Work: A Legend of Zelda Movie?
"...possibly. I think you would have to split one game up though in to 2 maybe 3 movies to get the fu"  welshcelt
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Have You Seen The Awe-Inspiring Dead Island Trailer Yet?
21 comments

The New Xbox: Slim, Sleek And Silent
7 comments

Red Dead Redemption Goes To The Movies
7 comments

Empire at E3: The Return of Goldeneye
3 comments

Empire at E3: The Nintendo Round-up
2 comments

Empire Sits Down With The Portal 2 Writers, Gets Worryingly Excited
2 comments

In Search Of The Ultimate Xbox Controller
1 comments

Empire's Modern Warfare 3 Multiplayer Survival Guide
1 comments

The Return Of Max Payne
1 comments

Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game Preview
1 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (167)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
David Parkinson (1)

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The 24 Best Film-Related Ice Bucket Challenges
The viral craze that won’t quit takes in some of Hollywood’s finest

Who Shot First? The Complete List Of Star Wars Changes
An exhaustive chronology of George Lucas' post-release tinkering

Gamescom 2014: The 10 Most Exciting Games
Zombies! Guns! Tombs! Sheep! Watch the trailers right here...

Who Is Mack Bolan? Your Guide To Cinema's New Action Man
As Bradley Cooper lines up to star as the hero, here's your handy guide to his story so far

Film Studies 101: A Film Buff's Guide To Movie Movements
Everything you need to know about cinema's key groups

The 100 Greatest Games Of All Time
You voted, we counted, and here they are: beat-'em-ups, shoot-'em-ups, RPGs, JRPGs, MMORPGs, RTSs, first-person shooters, platformers, sims and much more!

Lists Of Our Lifetime: Empire's 25 Greatest Battles
From smalltime scraps to epic struggles, these are the conflicts that have stunned cinema since 1989

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! 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)