Kerouac’s classic novel of the Beat Generation, long considered unfilmable, gets an atmospheric and sensitively drawn adaptation from Brazil’s Walter Salles. Just as Kerouac himself did, the film brings together lightly fictionalised portraits of the author’s friends and lovers as they seek thrills and fulfilment (both sexual and narcotic) in the staid context of post-WWII America, with Sam Riley’s perceptively-played Sal an obvious Kerouac manqué, a born outsider who can really only cut loose on the page.
Various cross-country trips take the place of a conventional narrative, dropping us in the company of sundry eccentric writer types (Tom Sturridge and Viggo Mortensen as Ginsberg and Burroughs ringers respectively), yet the real emotional action is Sal’s unrequited, possibly even unacknowledged feeling for Garrett Hedlund’s impulsive hedonist Dean Moriarty – the real-life Neal Cassady. Poignant yearning underlines the amphetamine-fuelled carousing then, set against the authentic quicksilver bebop of the day. All round, it’s the celluloid On the Road you’ve always imagined. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)