On The Road, Walter Salles’ film adaptation, was officially released in the UK this weekend, and reviews, it has to be said, have not been kind. Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times, under the title “A Vehicle Not Roadworthy” – “The trite scripting and direction are accessorised with dismaying invocations of Culture, lest we mistake Sal and Dean (Jack and Neal) for mere wastrels with wanderlust”. Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman – “Walter Salles’ scuzzy, downbeat take on Jack Kerouac’s seminal work is a disaster..” Tara Brady in the Irish Times – On The Road at the multiplex? Now we’ve seen everything….None of (it), alas, amounts to anything that looks or feels like a proper movie”. Anthony Quinn in London’s Independent is similarly not impressed – “Mostly stripped of Kerouac’s incantatory prose, On The Road seems less a celebration of freedom than a mild chronicle of misbehaviour…what will annoy fans of Kerouac is the absence of risk and radicalism so integral to the cult of the Beats [sic]. Salles has made it so sanitized and cuddly it could almost be a commercial for bottled beer “. Quinn singles out Tom Sturridge‘s Allen as spectacular mis-casting – “Tom Sturridge – bespectacled, poetic and outrageously flattering to his real-life model Allen Ginsberg (there hasn’t been a more cockeyed match-up since Emily Blunt played the young Queen Victoria”).
A necessary counterpoint – Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph – “Rambling, episodic, aimless, vague. You can throw all these words at Walter Salles’ On The Road. Many did when it premiered at Cannes in a longer version than the cut now released. They might sound like criticisms but they are the point. The movie can’t help but ramble if it wants to honor the whole ethos of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 Beatnik travelogue, but it isn’t shy about weighing up his achievement either. It’s partly a gorgeous and textured film of his book, partly a hidden biopic about why he wrote it”. Robey also notes – “The supporting cast is tremendous – Kristen Stewart‘s restless child-bride, Viggo Mortensen‘s Burroughs surrogate and Kirsten Dunst‘s trapped Camille all make vivid impressions, as does Tom Sturridge’s funny, lonely Carlo (the Ginsberg figure)”. David Sexton in The Evening Standard is also positive and up-beat (sic) – “(Salles) has certainly taken making this film very seriously indeed…And the movie that has resulted is faithful to its source, it’s three main stars all looking remarkably like their models…The landscapes look great too, vast open spaces brilliantly captured…This is a good-looking film in every respect”
The movie-review aggregating site Rotten Tomatoes mirrors this critical ambivalence – 50/50 (of the 58 reviews counted when last we looked) – “no consensus yet”. We expect it has a lot to do with what people expect when they come into the cinema, not only what they expect from Kerouac but what they expect from a narrative, from a story.
On The Road (En El Camino) opens in Spain next week, and, on December 21, in a limited run, just before Christmas, in the United States.