½ (out of five stars)Director: Walter SallesCast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence HowardRated: R for strong sexual content, drug use and languageRunning time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Walter Salles’ “On the Road” was made with noble intentions, finely-crafted filmmaking and handsome casting, but, alas, it does not work.
Salles, the Brazilian filmmaker of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” would seem the perfect director to translate to the screen Jack Kerouac’s poetry of the road. But this “On the Road,” the first ever big-screen adaptation of the Beat classic, doesn’t pulse with the electric, mad rush of Kerouac’s feverish phenomenon.
Salles approached the book with reverence and deep research, and perhaps that’s the problem — that its spirit got suffocated by respectfulness. The late ’40s period detail is lush, and there is surely a very attractive montage that could be pulled from the film.
But if anything has made “On the Road” so beloved, it is not its artful composition, but its yearning, the urgent passion of its characters to break free of themselves and postwar America and feel the freedom of the road.
Salles captures the backpacks slung over hitchhiker shoulders, the rushing scenery out the car window, the sound of a dirt road underfoot. But his film ultimately feels conventional, too neatly packaged and too affectedly acted.
It’s worth noting how impossible a task this is. Many have tried, but it’s no coincidence that it has taken this long for a film version. Certainly we can lament that we don’t instead have an “On the Road” with James Dean or Marlon Brando, both of whom once considered it.
Imagine what Judd Apatow would do with “On the Road,” a bromance if there ever was one. There are so many brotherly hugs and arms flung across shoulders in the film that you’d swear you were watching European soccer.