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  • Production
  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2012
  • 124 mins

On The Road

Film4 On the Road Kristen Stewart


After his father's death, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), an aspiring New York writer, meets Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a devastatingly charming ex-con, married to the very liberated Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Sal and Dean bond instantly. Determined not to get locked in to a constricted life, the two friends cut their ties and take to the road with Marylou. Thirsting for liberty, the three young people head off in search of the world, of other encounters, and of themselves

About the film

Since it was first published in 1957, Jack Kerouac's cult novel has sold over 10 million copies, but has never previously been filmed. On The Road is widely considered by to be the defining novel of the Beat Generation, with its rambling, grammatically-loose style helping to free American literature from the constraints of traditional narrative, and its warts-and-all portrayal of post-war America striking a chord with a youth longing to break away from the conservative values of their parents. Kerouac claimed to have written On The Road over a frenzied three-week period in April 1951. In fact, the novel began to take shape as early as 1948, scribbled down in notebooks during his extensive travels around the US and Mexico. Originally considered to be 'unpublishable', it has gone on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide.

The novel tells the story of aspiring New York writer Sal Paradise (Kerouac's alter ego), who sets off on an odyssey across America in search of enlightenment and excitement. He's joined en route by a roll call of eccentric characters in particular the effervescent Dean Moriarty, whose friendship with Sal provides most of the novel's narrative drive. Despite concerted efforts to adapt the novel to the big screen - notably from Kerouac himself, who is said to have written to the young Marlon Brando asking him to star as Dean - the novel's unconventional structure and, later, iconic status proved problematic for potential film productions.

Francis Ford Coppola bought the movie rights to the book in 1979 and, over the years, the project has been linked to several prestigious filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard and Gus Van Sant. But it wasn't until Coppola saw Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries in 2004 that the ball really got rolling. Impressed by the Brazilian director's sincere, reflective style, Coppola immediately propositioned him with On The Road, and Salles readily agreed. Alongside Sam Riley (Brighton Rock, Control), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) and Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga films), the cast also includes Amy Adams (Oscar-nominated for The Fighter), Tom Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Alice Braga (Blindness), Terrence Howard (Iron Man, Hustle and Flow), Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia, Spider-Man), Viggo Mortensen (A Dangerous Method, The Road), and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire, Fargo).

Director Walter Salles is also reunited with co-writer Jose Rivera, following their collaboration on The Motorcycle Diaries. Film4 co-financed this film, which was produced by MK2's Marin Karmitz and Charles Gillibert with Rebecca Yeldham and Roman Coppola. The film was written by Jose Rivera and was executive produced by Tessa Ross, Francis Ford Coppola, John Williams and Jerry Leider. On The Road will be released by Icon Films on 12 October 2012.

Press Reactions

Charlie Lyne, Ultra Culture

“Salles’s film revels in the spirit of adventure espoused by beatniks Sal and Dean but is also awake to their all-consuming selfishness, regularly undercutting the free-spirited chaos with a few much-needed reality checks. “

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“Salles has lovingly crafted a poetic, sensitive, achingly romantic version of the Kerouac book that captures the evanescence of its characters' existence and the purity of their rebellious hunger for the essence of life.”

Tim Robey, The Telegraph

“The ending is perfect, and capable of unleashing a flood of emotion towards these characters that we barely think possible along the way. Some films only coalesce right at the end, and the closing moments here are so spellbindingly sad that I was instantly keen to see it again.”

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Steve Buscemi, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Garrett Hedlund, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen
  • Director: Walter Salles
  • Screen Writer: Jose Rivera, Walter Salles
  • Producer: Rebecca Yeldham, Nathanaël Karmitz, Charles Gillibert
  • Photographer: Eric Gautier
  • Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla

The bottom line

A Film4-backed film, On The Road was released in October 2012 in the UK. The Telegraph said that "working with the wonderful French cinematographer Eric Gautier (Into the Wild), Salles summons a twilit America where wanderlust is an ache, an addiction, and a kind of madness. It’s a tempting vortex to disappear into, for these rootless young people bored by the conventional options of living." It is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

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