The book that's taught generations how to live as honestly, passionately and freely as they can is finally a movie.

It was always going to be a challenge adapting On the Road, a book which is so intensely loved, has been so integral to the minds of so many people for so many years, and written in a language which burns and pulses and pierces the heart like stone cutting glass. We've been waiting years for it, and now the film version of Jack Kerouac's novel, starring Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund as Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty respectively, criss-crossing the country and trying to live as honestly and as passionately and as freely as they can, is finally upon us. And we can say that it's good. Very good.

On the Road is the seminal novel of the Beat Generation, a semi-autobiographical account of Kerouac's time hoofing it across the country in the late 1940s and infamously written over three Benzedrine-fuelled weeks on a 120-foot roll of teletype paper. Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights to the novel in 1979 and has been tinkering about with it to no avail until signing up Walter Salles and Jose Rivera, the pair who directed and scripted The Motorcycle Diaries. The influence of that film haunts On the Road, and just as The Motorcycle Diaries captures the stark beauty of South America, On the Road shows every corner of the United States in its most exquisite detail.

The performances from nearly all the actors are outstanding, particularly Riley and Tom Sturridge (as the lovelorn Carlo Marx), with Hedund's turn as Dean Moriarty the big, beating heart of the film. He also, as it happens, is on screen naked on a number of occasions, as are Kristen Stewart's boobs, if you're into that. Viggo Mortensen also provides some of the best lines as Old Bull Lee, a thinly veiled William S. Burroughs — Lorraine is a good name for a bat, don't you know.

What will bother some is that the exuberance of the Beats in the novel, "the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk and mad to be saved," dissipates in Salles' slower-paced, golden-toned approach. The best bet, as with all film adaptations, is not to get too caught up in the accuracy of the interpretation, and simply appreciate it for what it is.

Published on September 17, 2012 by Madeleine Watts

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