Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman Revealed
The Inside Story Of Sideshow Collectibles
Guardians Of The Galaxy Review
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
Promotion: Destiny Awaits
Win a limited edition PS4 and a copy of Destiny
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

4K Or Not 4K?: First Look At Sharp's '2.5K' Quattron Pro Technology
By James Dyer

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 3: ‘His Last Vow’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
By Ali Plumb

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 2: ‘The Sign Of Three’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
By Ali Plumb

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 1: 'The Empty Hearse' - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
By Ali Plumb

Empire Visits Fresh Meat Season 2
By Phil de Semlyen

True Blood: Season Four - What A Witch
By Helen O'Hara

My Problems With Sherlock
By Ali Plumb

Supernatural Vs. The Vampire Diaries: Battle of the Buffy Successors
By Helen O'Hara

Why The US Office Is Undeniably Better Than The Original
By Ali Plumb

The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye
By James White


RECENT COMMENTS

4K Or Not 4K?: First Look At Sharp's '2.5K' Quattron Pro Technology
"It doesn't matter if there are 50 billion pixels. The human eye cans perceive anything smaller than "  rubenjames
Read comment

4K Or Not 4K?: First Look At Sharp's '2.5K' Quattron Pro Technology
"4K TVs are actually not that expensive anymore and the 'Quattron' costs 2.300€ (60inches).<"  DrGreenSkunk
Read comment

4K Or Not 4K?: First Look At Sharp's '2.5K' Quattron Pro Technology
"So this is basically the "HD-ready" version of 4K."  grucl
Read comment

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 2: ‘The Sign Of Three’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
"Terribly self indulgent episode, I fear Sherlock has crawled up his own a*se!"  darthmhall101
Read comment

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 3: ‘His Last Vow’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
"It was by the far the best episode of series 3, with a good plot, engaging villain and great dialogu"  dunc2001
Read comment

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 3: ‘His Last Vow’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
"With all this talk of Bond I can't find any mention here of the MOST obvious link. Mycroft at the e"  JediBobster
Read comment

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 3: ‘His Last Vow’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
"nobody else think magnussen was blind ? I also think the irish bird is either moriarty or his sist"  elsquig
Read comment

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 3: ‘His Last Vow’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
"Sorry but I was kind of disappointed with 'Series' 3 (series being a loose term for 3 episodes!).<"  MDG_78
Read comment

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 3: ‘His Last Vow’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
"I enjoyed this episode and thought it was a good finale for season 3. But is it just me or are they "  Pandora
Read comment

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 3: ‘His Last Vow’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
"So many "M" names - Moriarty, Mary, Magnussen, Mycroft, Molly, Mike Stamford, even Mrs Hud"  craftyexpat
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

What's The Best TV Show Ever?
307 comments

Lost: The End
112 comments

The Show Must Go On
102 comments

Why The US Office Is Undeniably Better Than The Original
57 comments

My Problems With Sherlock
49 comments

Sherlock Holmes And The Curious Case Of The Princess Bride
43 comments

Supernatural Vs. The Vampire Diaries: Battle of the Buffy Successors
35 comments

Can Claudia Winkleman Save Film 2010?
20 comments

Can Torchwood Travel?
16 comments

Sherlock Series 3, Episode 2: ‘The Sign Of Three’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction
15 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
Michel Gondry Talks Mood Indigo
Gondry on Bjork, erections and Mark Ruffalo in his pants

Everything You Need To Know About The Dragonriders Of Pern
The lowdown on Warner Bros. new fantasy sci-fi

A Pocket Guide To Game Of Thrones’ New Cast Members
Know your Doran Martell from your Nym Sand

Empire's The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies Covers Are Here
Bard The Bowman or Smaug The Magnificent?

Directors Special: Peter Hyams Goes Film-By-Film
The veteran director on Timecop, Outland, 2010, Enemies Closer and more

The 10 Biggest Stories Of Comic-Con 2014
The shocks to emerge from this year's geek-fest. Avengers! Max! Mann!

Models Inc.: The Inside Story Of Sideshow Collectibles
How the likes of Batman, Superman and Luke Skywalker become collectible figures

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time Subscribers' Cover

Subscribe today and get the cover and 3 issues for only £10!

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)