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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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The movie goes farther than the book--and is cruising into NC-17 territory in the thrusting department-- in showing the many ways these friends and lovers shared sexual partners, often in a group. Stewart is especially strong in a supporting role as an earthily sexual teenager who thinks nothing of giving hand jobs to both Dean and Jack at the same time in the front seat of the car.

But it's a lot to ask for any actors to take on these well-known figures, and other movies such as "Heartbeat" have struggled depicting these characters. (Neal Cassady appears in Alex Gibney's "Magic Trip," in Ken Kesey's footage from the actual Merry Pranksters bus tour.) Garrett Hedlund ("Tron: Legacy") is a strong physically commanding actor with the edgy musculature and charm that Cassady had, but something is missing. And while it's always thankless to play the writer-observer role, Sam Riley commands the screen without having to say much. "I was a young writer trying to take off," he says in one of many bits of voice-over narration.

Salles has put in eight years on this film, and prepared for it by making the similarly episodic literary journey "The Motorcycle Diaries." The two films are of a piece and are not easily dismissed, even if they are long and meandering. "On the Road" should be seen, especially by younger viewers who may find this slice of American cultural history fascinating. Typically, however, it's more likely that adults will show.

Just before the festival, IFC/Sundance Selects paid a larger advance than usual, fighting off considerable competition to pick up the film, which is not overtly commercial despite its starry cast (including Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams in cameos as Old Bull Lee--read William S. Burroughs--and his live-in girlfriend), and will push it hard in theaters. "It will be the company's biggest push in years and a top priority," said one IFC/Sundance Selects exec.

Is "On the Road" an Oscar contender? While the Academy will appreciate its craftsmanship, critics will be mixed. The cinematography and costumes are stunning. The film will likely hit the fall fest circuit. But it needs a masterful Oscar campaign (which is not IFC's stock in trade), superb reviews and prizes along the way for its two main actors, Hedlund and Riley, to reach that level, and I don't see that happening.


  • 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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