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Cannes 2012: Walter Salles and Sprawling Cast Recreate Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road,' Which is Cruising for an NC-17

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 23, 2012 at 11:58AM

"On the Road" is a two hour and 17-minute recreation of Jack Kerouac's seminal 1957 novel. It's a serious thoughtful gorgeously mounted period art film and American travelogue, carefully researched and painstakingly crafted. Walter Salles and writer Jose Rivera, the team behind "The Motorcycle Diaries," succeeded where many failed, over the three decades since producer Francis Ford Coppola optioned the property.
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"On the Road"'s Garrett Hedlund, Walter Salles, Sam Riley
"On the Road"'s Garrett Hedlund, Walter Salles, Sam Riley
'On the Road'
'On the Road'

"On the Road" is a two hour and 17-minute recreation of Jack Kerouac's seminal 1957 novel. It's a serious thoughtful gorgeously mounted period art film and American travelogue, carefully researched and painstakingly crafted. Walter Salles and writer Jose Rivera, the team behind "The Motorcycle Diaries," succeeded where many failed, over the three decades since producer Francis Ford Coppola optioned the property.

What made it so difficult? Well, it's expensive to go to multiple period locations with a huge cast. And what have these historical literary figures to tell us now? Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg had an enormous impact on the culture, spawning the Beat Generation which led in turn to the 60s counterculture. They, like many in my parents' generation, were rebelling against the conservative mores of the time, and jazz, booze, sex, misogyny, creativity and irresponsibility were all part of the picture.

Rivera and Salles ran a four-week boot camp for the actors in Montreal, where they steeped themselves in books and films and met and interviewed many survivors and children of the Beat circle. Salles stresses that he's showing the formative years before the Beats came to life. The script is thoughtful and rigorously structured against the real criss-crossing itinerary, which the filmmakers re-traced.

And yet as fascinating and authentic as the movie is, it all comes down to Dean Moriarty. There's a reason why Kerouac (embodied in "On the Road" as writer Sal, played by Sam Riley, star of "Control") and Tom Wolfe ("The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test") devoted so many pages writing about Neal Cassady (aka Moriarty). He was a charismatic, larger-than-life speed-freak babblemouth who mesmerized the men and women around him, from multiple wives (the first two are well-played by Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst, respectively) to poet Allen Ginsberg (Tom Sturridge plays "Carlo"), with whom Moriarty/Cassady had a sexual relationship (as depicted in the less successful "Howl").

This article is related to: Festivals, Festivals, Cannes Film Festival, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.