On the Road (R)

Action/Adventure 140 March 22, 2013
By Nick Pinkerton
On the Road has lost much of its secret-society thrill over the years, making it the inevitable screen adaptation's job to resuscitate. And now Jack Kerouac's Discover America story has been filmed, written for the screen by Puerto Rican José Rivera, directed by Brazilian Walter Salles-- his Motorcycle Diaries cohort-- and made with an Englishman, Sam Riley, as Kerouac's alter-ego Sal Paradise. This perspective is not necessarily a disadvantage, for Kerouac, a Northeasterner of French-Canadian stock—we see him speaking Quebecoise to his mother at the Ozone Park, Queens, apartment that they share—self-identifies as an awed outsider, hanging on to cowboy Neal Cassady and black jazz musicians to submerge himself into the enigma of America. But a feeling of reckless chance is difficult to achieve on a $25 million dollar period piece, and beefy blonde Garrett Hedlund, as the novel's honest-to-God tramp Dean more often suggests Levi's ad Americana than a wired dude you'd find hanging around a Grayhound station at 2 AM. Playing Dean's on-again off-again jailbait nympho wife, Mary Lou, Kristen Stewart’s existential screen presence is a boon; Viggo Mortensen also shows up as "Bull Lee"-- code name of William S. Burroughs-- doing what seems like a long-honed party-trick impersonation of Burroughs' adenoidal drawl.
Walter Salles Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Elizabeth Moss, Danny Morgan, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen Jack Kerouac, Jose Rivera Nathanael Karmitz, Charles Gillibert, Rebecca Yeldham, Roman Coppol IFC Films/Sundance Selects

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