I’m sad to give this movie a rating like that. I wanted to like it. And there were things about it that I did like. The music throughout was very good! I also liked the cinematography. It’s a great-looking film.
And there were some good quotes from characters who want to feel and to be inspired. One character bemoans the book he’s not writing and the inspiration he doesn’t feel. I’ve felt like that often in my life.
The film—from the 1957 book of the same name by Jack Kerouac—is about a road trip across 1947 America from New York to Colorado to Algiers, New Orleans and Mexico... even to Campbell, CA of all places (where I used to teach). It’s about a writer named Sal, who is looking for inspiration. He meets Carlo (another writer), Dean, and Dean’s wife Marylou.
The acting in this movie is also very good. Sam Riley as Sal does a great job. He reminds me somewhat of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Garrett Hedlund also does a good job as the nymphomaniac Dean (even though he’s a hard character to like). Marylou is played by Kristen Stewart, in a return to indie flicks. Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams turn up as a strange family in New Orleans. Terrance Howard is a musician in New York. Alice Braga turns up as a migrant worker that Sal has a fling with. Steve Buscemi plays a carpooler who travels with Dean and Sal. Kirsten Dunst plays Dean’s second, and often estranged, wife, Camille.
Sal follows Dean’s exploits to find inspiration to write about. And—SPOILER ALERT—he eventually does.
But Dean is a terrible person that everyone in the film both loves and hates. All Dean is interested in are sex and drugs. Aside from the titillation and the vicarious living one does while watching it all happen, there isn’t much else in this film. The movie makes you ask yourself, “isn’t there anything more to life than this?” And then it makes you feel bad when you realize there isn’t.
The movie kind of makes you feel either sad about being human, or bad about it. I’m not sure which. All the people want things that they can’t get. The character that propels everything forward is Dean, a character who tells a story of sitting in a car for 14 hours with a gun in his mouth, but ultimately not being able to pull the trigger. Eventually, after all of Sal’s partying with Dean, Dean leaves Sal when he gets dysentery in Mexico. That sort of sums up the things that happen in the film.
At an hour and thirteen minutes, I was hoping the movie would be over soon.
The film cost $25 to make, but only made about $8.7 million at the box office. Ouch. As one character states: “You got no calluses, Sal.” I guess the filmmakers do now. There has been a number of attempts to make this film throughout the years. From wikipedia: “A film adaptation of On the Road had been in development hell for decades. In 1957, Jack Kerouac wrote a one-page letter to actor Marlon Brando, suggesting that he play Dean Moriarty while Kerouac would portray Sal Paradise. In the letter, Kerouac envisioned the film to be shot "with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak." Brando never responded to the letter, and later on Warner Bros. offered $110,000 for the rights to Kerouac's book but his agent, Sterling Lord, declined it. Lord hoped for $150,000 from Paramount Pictures, which wanted to cast Brando in the film. The deal did not occur and Kerouac was angered that his agent asked for too much money. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights in 1979. Over the years, he hired several screenwriters to adapt the book into a film, including Michael Herr and Barry Gifford, only for Coppola to write his own draft with his son Roman. In 1995, the filmmaker planned to shoot on black-and-white16mm film and held auditions with poet Allen Ginsberg in attendance but the project fell through. Coppola said, "I tried to write a script, but I never knew how to do it. It's hard — it's a period piece. It's very important that it be period. Anything involving period costs a lot of money." Several years later he tried again with Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt to play Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty respectively, but this project also failed to work. In 2001, Coppola hired novelist Russell Banks to write the script and planned to make the film with Joel Schumacher directing and starring Billy Crudup as Sal Paradise and Colin Farrell as Dean Moriarty, but this incarnation of the project was shelved as well. Gus Van Sant also expressed interest in making the film.”
There are two good quotes in the film. One is: “The road ran straight as an arrow, like driving across the world and in to the places where we’d finally learn ourselves among the essential strain of basic, primitive, wailing humanity that stretches in a belt around the equatorial belly of the world.”
The other is the ending monologue, that sort of sums up the film:
“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit in the old broken-down river pier, watching the long, long skies of New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over the West Coast and all of that road going and all the people dreaming and the immensity of it, and in Iowa, I know by now, the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the Earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks, and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s gonna happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty. I even think of Old Dean Moriarty, the father we never found. I think of Dean Moriarty. I think of Dean Moriarty.”