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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

by Anne Thompson
May 23, 2012 11:58 AM
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"On the Road"'s Garrett Hedlund, Walter Salles, Sam Riley
'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").


  • Steve | May 31, 2012 7:44 PMReply

    NC-17 for gratuitous hand jobs?

  • Tango | May 25, 2012 2:04 AMReply

    Adults won't go to see this. They can't stand Kristen Stewart, she's like box office poison for indies, they never make a dime if she's in one, and they've never heard of Hedlund or Riley. None of these actors embody those characters and in fact, their casting is rather insulting to anyone who's a fan of the book. Hedlund's been trying to break out for years now, and it just isn't happening. Riley deserved better than having to act with those two, he's not responsible for this mess. Stewart needs strong co-stars to carry any film she's in, she's never done it on her own and she's a detriment to OTR. Just imagine Evan Rachel Wood in this role--she's only 23 and is so much more accomplished and can still look 17, she did in Mildred Pierce.

  • AFan | June 10, 2012 8:24 PM

    You are obviously a Kristen Stewart hater who doesn't know what she's talking about. Kristen has millions of fans including me, a grandmother, not because of Twilight but because she is an extraordinary talented and beautiful actress who is not Hollywood phony and I have loved all of her movies. Looking forward to seeing On the Road as I read the book years ago and just recently re-read it when I heard Kristen was in it. I hear she is getting great reviews from the important critics that count, not haters and bullies.

  • Louise | May 26, 2012 1:50 PM

    Wrong. I will be seeing On the Road because of Stewart, Hedlund, Riley and Vigo, and because Salles is a storyteller. I am not a Twilight teen. I read On the Road and have been waiting for the movie for long time. Other rewiews are saying that Hedlund and Stewart give the money the energy needed. Other reviews have not been that generous to Riley who is only known for Control because his other movies including Brighton Rock flopped. Don't get me wrong, I like Riley and I am looking forward to his playing of Sal but that is his reality. You obviously have not seen Stewart's work including The Runaways, Welcome to the Rileys and Into the Wild which is the film that led Salles to cast her in On the Road.

  • Dougie | May 24, 2012 4:04 PMReply

    Has anyone under 60 evah heard of Kerouac, Gins, etc?

  • Pec | May 23, 2012 8:51 PMReply

    The film won't get NC-17 rating. IFC can release the film unrated.

  • jeremy | May 23, 2012 12:22 PMReply

    Why, specifically, is it cruising for an NC-17 rating?

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