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On The Road  

The Road Trip That Goes Nowhere [Blu-Ray]

Jack Kerouac's 1950's novel is brought to the screen courtesy of director Walter Salles, who chronicled another road trip, The Motorcycle Diaries [Blu-ray]. It tells the story of Sal and his new friend Dean, who set out `on the road' to find themselves, resisting conformity in order to really understand their identity. It's a journey involving drugs, alcohol and plenty of jazz, not to mention sex.. but ultimately for all the effective and beautiful cinematography and set design (what beautiful roads they are on..), and admittedly wonderful performances from Garret Hedlund in particular, this doesn't really go anywhere or tell us enough about either the times, the characters or the finding of the identity that is so central to the idea of the story, although there are intriguing moments along the way.

In converting the novel to the screen, Salles has apparently relied heavily on the original prose particularly in the use of voice overs, without really coming up with a cinematic hook for how to tell this story to a modern audience. If you decide to adapt a much loved novel, it stands to reason that you have a compelling vision for how it translates into a piece of cinema. If it's just a love of the novel and a desire to bring it to the big screen - then this is what you end up with, a mumbling stream of eloquent but unengaging bohemian characters, aimlessly drifting but trying to learn about life in the process. It seems at the least to short change the book, given the novel's reputation. At the very least it's all just a little too restrained and buttoned up to match the beat ethos.

As a story intended to exemplify the values of the `beat generation', the movies success really depends on whose definition you use. If you go by the critics who insist `beat' refers to beaten down, then this movie does portray that kind of bleakness.. however if you go by Kerouac's version of `beat' meaning beatific or blissful, the movie falls a long, long way short in convincing. If the message is about promoting a stand against conformism, then it's failed in my opinion, because at no point do you really find yourself empathising with these characters, much less desiring of or appreciative of their values. Can this really be the novel that inspired lifestyle and artistic choices for Bob Dylan, The Doors, Tom Waits and so many others? Alas no, it's a facsimile of it which, ironically, has lost its way.

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