The best discovery (and there are many) in On the Road—a 21st century film production of a definitive piece of 20th century literature—is that the cult novel has been so seemlessly adapted to a fine screenplay. There was plenty of reason for skepticism, and I must admit to my own dose of doubt, but I can report that On the Road is one of the best films of 2012, and certainly one of the most beautiful.
But On the Road's beauty isn't found in sunwashed glamour. Instead, we're asked to travel America's backroads, visiting the cold water flats and back alleys of a nation in search of its post-war soul. It's terribly ironic that the film is a co-production among United States, Brazilian and French movie studios.
The film is packed with one of the most diverse supporting casts in recent memory: Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Kirsten Dunst and Terrence Howard all show up, with an increasing level of Bohemian one-upmanship. But the stars above the title are Sam Riley as the iconic Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty. Hedlund is destined for stardom. He burns like a roman candle.
And then, of course, there is Kristen Stewart, the current queen of the tabloids. For the record, she's pretty great here. But the papparazzi of Toronto, which becomes Hollywood North every September, are snapping Stewart's every move, and screaming out rather rude questions about her personal life. But these are entertainment "journalists," who aren't the least bit interested in On the Road, and I doubt they could spell Kerouac, even if you spotted them a few vowels.
On the Road is destined for the art-house world. It's not going to entertain anyone who thinks that Transformers is a fine movie. But if discerning audiences find this film, and I'm pretty sure they will, they'll realize that it's worth the trip.