On The Road (Salles, 2012)

On the road

Taken by itself, this is a pretty good film, and so I will give it a pretty good rating. The cinematography, lighting, and set design are good; the performances vary, most are mediocre but all are passable. The problem isn’t that On The Road is a bad film but that it is an inauthentic adaptation of a great novel. Though the film tries adamantly to hold fast to the tidings of the book, following the script and dialogue very closely (aside from jumping lengths of Parts 3 and 4), reciting lines and following a previously treaded journey is not the same as living the part, and none of the characters on screen resemble those in the book, even less so the real folk the characters are based on (Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsberg etc.).

The film only surveys the beat generation on the surface. That is, the film only adapts Kerouac’s book on the surface. This film mortifies Neal Cassady’s eccentricities and Kerouac’s rambling prose (learned from Cassady) by presenting a relatively conservative slow-talking Dean Moriarty in place of the beat symbolic ecstasy sharing Saint that is Dean Moriarty. The filmmakers’ poor casting here is telling; On The Road, the film, is a different story altogether, a different story with parallel happenings, and one which exploits the success of Kerouac’s infamous novel. The ‘cinematic’ finale which manipulates the time sequence of certain events is the proof in the pudding.

Truly, the film should have been made with more effort to realize its feeling than its plot, because the plot itself could have been adapted to a 2000s aesthetic and felt more authentic. That the film parades as a close reading while missing the sensibilities of the Beat generation, which Kerouac himself felt required Cassady’s eccentric, manic-depressive, ranting form of prose in order to realize, is where the film’s screenplay draws faults and runs inconsistent to the quality of its more than adequate cinematography.

65/100 – Decent.

2.5 star


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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