Despite the skill behind and in front of the camera, a badly constructed script flattens this film version of Jack Kerouac's iconic 1957 novel. It's beautifully shot and sharply played by the starry ensemble cast, but the repetitive structure leaves the film with no forward momentum. Instead of a voyage of discovery, it feels like a lot of random, pointless wandering.
Thinly autobiographical, the story centres on the young New York writer Sal (Riley). He's drawn to the charismatic Dean (Moriarty), a charming rogue who's married to 16-year-old Marylou (Stewart) but is having an affair with Camille (Dunst) while seducing every other woman he meets. And quite a few men as well, including Sal's friend Carlo (Sturridge). All of them are writers and artists, hanging out in clouds of hash smoke as they drive back and forth across America in search of something to write about.
Of course, Sal finds this in Dean as their friendship ebbs and flows over several years. Since this is essentially Sal's story, it's rather odd that the film abandons him from time to time to follow someone else, leaping jarringly into another situation, often marked by Dean's sudden reappearance after yet another bit of roaming. So while we understand how everyone is held in Dean's magnetic orbit, we can't quite see the point of it all. Sal may be obsessed with his thoughts of Dean, but he seems strangely willing to abandon him time and time again. There isn't nearly enough of the scene-stealing costars like Mortensen, Adams and Buscemi. And frankly, it should be a crime to waste Moss (of Mad Men fame) in such a fragmented role.
Continue reading: On The Road Review