On The Road

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Rated R                          3 stars out of 5

On the RoadYes, I read “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (this year), and then I saw the movie. For some reason, I felt I could not see and review this movie without reading the book. Then I demanded to see it, on demand, because it did not come to a theater within 100 miles of me.

The plot of the movie is rather simple. Sal (Sam Riley of Brighton Rock) meets Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund of TRON: Legacy) and decides to go on the road with him. From the title and the narrative process of the scenes, most would say this is a road trip movie. I don’t think so. They do have actual destinations and reasons for their cross-country madness, however this story is about taking to the road as a way of life. It’s about the experience of being on the road with strange people in strange places doing strange things at a strange time. It’s about exploring the country and everything their parents ever told them to stay away from. That list is long, and includes wild women/men, drugs, sex, race, subversive literature and freethinking. All this without a dollar to their names. They know there are laws and rules, and that one day they may have to conform, but not as long as they stay on the road.

The acting talent is passible, and it may help that Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt were not cast. They may have been better, but you would be less likely to see the true characters. Also, the movie is not ruined with Kristin Stewart (Twilight) as Marylou and Kirsten Dunst (Elizabethtown) as Camille, but there is a whole movie in each of those relationships. I demand to see that movie one day.

There is nothing technically wrong with the movie. They have taken numerous things from the book and done a decent job at giving us a peek at them. But it’s like going to a big church picnic and going down the five tables of food and putting a little bit of everything on your plate. You will be filled up after two hours, but you’ll wish you had just settled on three or four items and made a meal out that.

Of all the beats from the book in the movie, the one they fell short on was Moriarty. We see plenty of his manic drug-infused behavior, but very little of the all-night pseudo intellectual monologues. There was genius there. Why else would Sal follow him?

So how can a great story not be cinematic? Well, I’m no Kerouac, but let me put it this way: “I knew this guy. He was really something, and what we did this one time was – well, you had to be there.” If you read the book, you were as close to being there as you could be. If you see this movie, then it’s like you heard a guy at a bar tell you the story. You got the information, and you might appreciate it, but you won’t understand. For that, you and your crazy friend must go on the road.

I give this movie 3 stars for the effort. I mean somebody was going to climb Everest because, just like this literary treasure, it was there.

Tom Basham is an indie filmmaker.

Here is a link to his movie review site: 


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