When Sal (Sam Reily) meets the freewheeling Dean (Garret Hedlund), he is immediately fascinated with this young man and fearless way he lives his life. Sal soon joins Sam and his 16 year old wife Mary Lou (Kirsten Stewart) as they travel across the country and live their lives as though they are about to burn out.
Garret Hedlund plays Dean; a young man who can see all of the delights that life has to offer and is determined to sample each of them. Dean leaves a trail of broken hearts in his wake, and exudes the kind of magnetism that many find hard to resist. Hedlund allows Dean’s joie de vivre to shine on the surface of the character, but there is a darkness to this young man that is only evident in glimpses. Dean has literally lost his father, and it is evident from Hedlund’s performance that this has had more of an effect on him than he would care to admit. Dean is the sun around which all the other characters orbit and, while Hedlund manages the role fine, he sometimes relies on his smile to make up for actual charisma.
Sam Reily as Sal is caught in Dean’s wake, and his admiration for this whirling dervish of a man is all too evident. Sal wishes he could be as carefree and careless as his friend, but must content himself with being part of the party. Reily is the emotional heart of the film, and the audience gets to know Dean through his eyes. There are touches of homo-eroticism and blatant admiration from Sal, and although he may be the more bland of the two friends, they become co-conspirators on their journey.
Kirsten Stewart plays Mary Lou, another character who is drawn into Dean’s orbit, and even when he divorces her, she still finds herself powerless to resist the lure of Dean and the romanticism that he represents. Stewart is infinitely more vibrant in On The Road than we have seen her in a long time, and although she may rarely break out into actual joy, her despair is not as deep as it could be either, as the character is realistic about her expectations from her charismatic lover. It is nice to see Stewart smile, but she does not move far from her role as the tragic lover in Twilight with her role. This is a smart career move for now, however, as the film is sure to be as inspirational to young teenagers now as the book was when it was published in 1957.
Cameos abound throughout the film; Steve Buscemi, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams and Elisabeth Moss all plays characters that inhabit Dean’s world to a greater or lesser extent. While none is given a huge amount of screen time, Viggo Mortensen manages to shine through the assembled cast as an oddball landowner in Louisiana.
With The Motorcycle Diaries, director Walter Salles has already proven that he is capable of taking characters on the move and allowing the landscape to effect their journey. The ‘road’ almost becomes a character of itself in the movie, and it is through the characters constant motion that they develop and grow as people. The film looks fantastic; the great American landscape opens up as the characters travel, and the idea of the big American sky is particularly evident here, even if this trio are more concerned with one another than the world around them. The cinematography ensures that audiences see America at it’s best, and in this way – and the cosy world created between the trio at the centre of the film – On The Road is sure to inspire cross country journeys in search of the self. The running time of almost two and a half hours is where the film falters, however, and the audience may find themselves losing patience with this man child who feels no responsibility toward those around him.
In all, On The Road is overly long and suffers somewhat due to the fact that garret Hedlund is not as charismatic as he probably should be. The road looks great, and the relationships are intriguing, until they are dragged out for the sake of characters realising that they must return to their lives. As well as this, the film also relies a little too heavily on nostalgia for our lost youth and is honestly unlikely to trouble the big players for the Plame D’Or this year.
On the Road is one of the films most talked about and anticipated on the Croisette at Cannes this year. Jack Kerouac’s novel of the same name defined the Beat Generation, and has inspired countless others to travel across America to in search of adventure and themselves. The film plays a little like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for teenagers, as the characters make their way across country in a fog of lust, drink and drugs.