The Notables Films of 2011 : Part Ten
On the Road
Cast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams
Director: Walter Salles
Summary: Sal Paradise, a writer holed up in a room at his aunt's house, gets inspired by Dean Moriarty to hit the road and see America. From the moment he gets on the seven train out of New York City, he begins a journey that explores the highs and lows of hitchhiking, bonding with fellow explorers and opting for beer before food.
Analysis: The term 'long gestating' film takes on a whole new meaning with this adaptation of what many consider the definitive novel of the Beat Generation. For over over five decades now there's been talk of a film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's autobiographical book about his time spent traveling America in the 1940's with his friend Neal Cassady. Kerouac wanted to play his literary counterpart Sal himself alongside Marlon Brando as the Cassady-inspired Dean back in the late 50's when the book first came out.
"The Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola tried several times to get an adaptation going, one time with Brad Pitt and Ethan Hawke, but that fell through. Joel Schumacher tried a version with Billy Crudup and Colin Farrell, that didn't come together either. It wasn't until about six years ago that Coppola convinced Brazilian director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") to direct the film and production got underway at last. In preparation, Salles shot a documentary taking the same road trip as Sal Paradise and speaking to other Beat poets who knew Kerouac.
Armed with a $25 million budget and much of the same crew who shot "The Motorcycle Diaries", filming got underway in August in Montreal with the cast undergoing a month-long "beatnik boot camp" where they all learned about the Beat Generation. Shooting also took place in New Orleans, San Francisco, Calgary, Arizona, Mexico and Argentina.
The casting has raised some eyebrows with Sam Riley ("Control," "Brighton Rock") as Sal, Garrett Hedlund ("Tron: Legacy," "Troy") as Dean and Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") as Mary Lou. The supporting roles seem on slightly stronger footing with Viggo Mortensen and Tom Sturridge cast as the equivalents of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg respectively. Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Amy Adams, and Kirsten Dunst also have key roles.
All the key cast have had plenty of time to get ready, Hedlund for example says he prepared for the role for essentially three years. Shot throughout the last half of 2010, filming was done almost "guerrilla style" according to the actors with minimal crew members on hand to lend an almost documentary feel to the proceedings. Reviews of the script have been raves and Salles will certainly bring his A-game to the material. The only question now is will this stand up to the scrutiny that comes when any film is adapted from a beloved novel that's considered one of the defining works of a generation.