On the Road, Walter Salles, 124 mins (15)

3.00

Walter Salles has gone where others feared to tread: in Kerouac's footsteps. It is a tough ask

Jack Kerouac's 1957 Beat narrative On the Road belongs in a long line of attempts to tame the American continent. Instead of seeing the US as a sprawling land mass populated by authority figures hostile to youth, his book told a post-war generation that it was one permanent party out there; wherever you went, from Des Moines to Denver, there would be drink, drugs, sex and jazz among kindred spirits, people who "burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles …".

Long considered unfilmable, On the Road is at last on the screen, executive-produced by Francis Ford Coppola, who once planned to direct, and now helmed by the Brazilian Walter Salles. The adaptation, scripted by José Rivera, takes a realist, de-mythifying tack. It highlights the film's central love triangle between narrator and Kerouac surrogate Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), quasi-hobo Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and Moriarty's teenage wife, Marylou (Kristen Stewart). No, make that a love pentagon, adding Moriarty's other woman, Camille (Kirsten Dunst), and manic poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), based on Allen Ginsberg and hopelessly enamoured of Dean. In fact, everyone's mad about the priapic, polysexual Moriarty, not least himself.

Photographs of Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady, the model for Dean, show men much more weathered than Riley and Hedlund – even young, they resembled battered prizefighters. But the people in the book and the film aren't Jack and Neal, they're the fictional Sal and Dean, and it's proper that the film emphasises restless youth. The cost is that their screen incarnations feel callow: Riley, so striking as Ian Curtis in Control, is an oddly vacant dreamer, and Hedlund a hunky surfer pin-up.

The women here figure rather more as living people, not least because of the script's critical slant on the maleness of Kerouac's world: in one pointed scene, they scrub floors while Old Bull Lee (the William Burroughs figure played by Viggo Mortensen) holds forth about his literary obsessions. As Marylou, Stewart – several rough motorway mornings away from the pieties of Twilight – manages to resist the camera's tendency to frame her as a pair of gangly legs on a back seat, especially in a very close-up scene in which when she responds deeply to a broken-hearted love song. But Dunst's canny Camille, who knows she's wasted herself on a lunk, is a much tougher presence, and the one who ends up giving Dean a bitter dressing-down.

Odd moments make you squirm, though it's hard to tell whether Salles intends this. In one sequence, Sal takes up with a single mother and joins her among the itinerant workers picking cotton; when the season's over, he moves on, and it looks horribly like the proverbial cheap holiday in other people's socio-economic reality. As for the Mexican sojourn mambo-ing in a brothel, the boys really start to come across as Ugly Americans; I'm not sure whether Salles is being satiric here, or whether the film has just lapsed into ay caramba tourist mode.

There are some memorable but unobtrusive turns along the way: Steve Buscemi is a square who gets serviced by Dean; Amy Adams and Elisabeth Moss both have brisk cameos at the Lee household; and Mortensen steals the show with a perfect Bill Burroughs drawl, dropping his pants to visit his backyard "orgone accumulator".

Director Salles has some form as a peripatetic director, having followed Che Guevara's trail in the rather more interesting Motorcycle Diaries. On the Road is not without poetry or beauty, and those mountain vistas and rain-splattered windshields (shot by Eric Gautier) are irresistibly looka-yonder. But Salles always struck me as rather earnest in his poetry, an upmarket photojournalist among fiction directors. Precisely because the Beats partly created the idea of modern America, it's that much harder to evoke the newness of their experience, and this journey (some 15 minutes shorter since its debut in Cannes) ultimately feels a little draggy and familiar. Its richest poetry is in Gustavo Santaolalla's fabulously loose jazzy score. But the thrill and, above all, the marginality of the original are missing: this seems a little safe and groomed, like spring break in workshirts, an Abercrombie & Fitch odyssey. The Beat faithful won't feel betrayed by this honourable attempt; but while it's not a damp squib, it's no Roman candle.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker