Jack Kerouac's generation-defining novel arrives on the big screen, executive-produced by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen. From the director of The Motorcycle Diaries. Now playing nationwide.
Jack Kerouac’s seminal road trip novel was never going to make for an easy screen adaptation. Written in one breath with the rambling fuel of a methamphetamine buzz, it was arguably a novel with more style than substance, more philosophy than plot and more uppers, so to speak, than downers. As exciting as Sal Paradise and his best friend Dean Moriarty’s experiences were, it was basically a story about two dudes on their OE, in search of sex, drugs and jazz (it was the 1940s after all).
Screenwriter Jose Rivera and director Walter Salles (who knows a thing or two about road movies, having directed The Motorcycle Diaries), needed to tap into the youthful spirit, sexual energy and vulnerability of the book’s characters in order to remain faithful, while accepting the sometimes superficial nature of the characters’ journey.
Miraculously, they manage it. Although it takes a while to warm to the gushing enthusiasm and close fellowship of the lead larrikins, it’s easy to get lost in the carefree quality of the film. It serves as a reminder of how sprawling the original narrative is, and how things inevitably bode well for the young men and not so for the women who were bound by their children and domestic responsibilities.
It’s also largely thanks to a (mostly) excellent cast. Garrett Hedlund effortlessly embodies the unbridled cool of the Moriarty character, a performance that will no doubt see him ascend to leading man status. Sam Riley as Sal Paradise not only looks the part, but exudes a natural combination of zest and nonchalance.
The weird interludes might test your patience – a dalliance with Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen’s deranged characters adds little to the journey – and Kristen Stewart is as sullen and flat to watch as you’d expect. But Salles has done the book justice by creating a film about what it means to be young and hungry for life.