It feels like this film has been coming at me forever, like headlights always sat on the horizon, but I guess that’s the danger of knowing too much too soon, and knowing that its circling around the festival scene before it will come to a five rowed studio screen in a cinema in Basildon. The love I have for the book was a catalyst for all this, the movement inspired my own writing and those characters changed the tides in ways that are very much unappreciated. They were all at the forefront, “the disillusioned twenty-first century poets” as my dear Kate said to me last night on the road to burgers and french fries. She wasn’t far wrong. They didn’t suffer the same restraints of their ancestors, by blood or by word, and yet they weren’t quite in the promised nirvana, it was a no mans land to do with as they wish and they shook to jazz and filled up notepads with Benzedrine jabberings.
It was therefore a mild relief to watch a film that attempted to capture that, because for the most part it did. While it felt like certain scenes and chapters were rushed; Sal working on the cotton fields and his life with Terri for example, there were true moments of beauty to it all. The cast cannot be faulted, and as with Perks there are moments that look like they’ve been dragged from the book, through the sieve of my mind and then splashed up onscreen, it just fits exactly to what I had expected.
For a skinny, pale, English boy drawn to the dead and the dying Sam Riley does an incredible job holding it all down as Sal Paradise, a character tweaked only slightly from Kerouac himself for his writing purposes. His accent is strong, and the way he sees things and writes and smokes is how you imagine Kerouac to work (with the limited catalogue of recorded work we have to judge these things by). Garrett Hudland also works well as Dean Moriarty although at times the sense of wonder Sal holds over him in the book is sold short on screen, as though there were points when he were too tired to keep up trying to be Moriarty, who as we all remember “burns, burns, burns”.
As expected Kristen Stewart’s presence in the film dragged three teenage girls into the cinema with absolutely no interest in the beat movement, or the story, or even putting their phones on silent but her acting wasn’t bad. Maybe that’s because Mary-Lou isn’t particularly the most filled character, even if she is the most filled character. Regardless, she holds her own in a world of men. Viggo Mortensen’s brief appearance as Old Bull Lee is also brilliant but cut far too short, I could have watched a feature on him.
I think overall the thing to note is that no film is ever going to catch the spirit of a book. It doesn’t have the time. Modern audiences don’t have the patience. It would look different to each person. It’s just not possible. There are however moments when On The Road catches onto the imagination and sucks on it hard, and when it does the sky is lit up for a brief moment before returning us to the darkness of the hushed auditorium.