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.
Hedlund's performance is exactly what the film needs: a sexy central figure we are interested in following. And Riley gives a nicely thoughtful turn as Sal, although he only half-heartedly sparks with the low-energy Stewart. His scenes with Braga's migrant worker are much sexier. Meanwhile, the film looks gorgeous, with warm, sensual photography that captures the rhythms of this Bohemian lifestyle. So when we start to feel like the filmmakers are trying to moralise about sex and drugs, the whole movie starts to feel choppy and unfocussed.
Run time: 124 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 23rd May 2012
Box Office USA: $0.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $8.8M
Distributed by: IFC Films/Sundance Selects
Production compaines: SPAD Films, MK2 Productions, Film Four International, Canal+, MK2 Production, American Zoetrope, Vanguard Films
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Fresh: 61 Rotten: 80
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Walter Salles
Producer: Charles Gillibert, Nathanael Karmitz, Rebecca Yeldham
Screenwriter: Jose Rivera
Starring: Kristen Stewart as Marylou, Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Kirsten Dunst as Camille, Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx, Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, Amy Adams as Jane, Alice Braga as Terry, Danny Morgan as Ed Dunkel, Elisabeth Moss as Galatea Dunkel, Giovanna Zacarías as Puta Loca Roja, Terrence Howard as Walter
Also starring: Jose Rivera
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