AFF 2013 Review: BIG SUR

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Call it perfect timing or strange coincidence, but just last week, I finally watched Walter Salles’ film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s iconic book On the Road. As much as I liked the movie, I felt that it isn’t quite the adaptation that Kerouac’s novel deserves.  Still, when I found out that the Austin Film Festival would screen another Kerouac adaptation, I knew I had to review it. Even though Big Sur has some truly magical cinematic moments, including a transformative performance by actor Jean Marc Barr (Kerouac) and solid work by the supporting cast,  ultimately, the payoff is quite weak and leaves much to be desired.

Whereas On the Road cover’s Kerouac’s young and wild years, Big Sur is about the aftermath of his success as the beat generation poster boy.  At this point of his life and career, Kerouac is tired, burnt out, depressed and descending into madness.  No longer looking for kicks, he relies on the bottle to numb his pain, but the demons swimmingly fight back. He seeks solace and solitude in a friend’s cabin in Big Sur, but the solitude only fuels the madness. Spending time with his old friend, Neal Cassidy (Josh Lucas) is of no hope at all as Cassidy has some maturity issues of his own.  Jack, in his alcoholic haze, tries to have a meaningful relationship with Neal’s mistress Billie (Kate Bosworth), but that pairing only makes him more self destructive until his psyche can no longer handle it.

Written and directed by Michael Polish, Big Sur has some of the most gorgeous cinematography ever captured on film. Polish accomplishes this, thanks to the compostitions of his director of photography, M. David Mullen, and the work of his superb crew.  Polish owes a huge debt of gratitude to good ole mother nature for providing some of the most astoundingly beautiful scenery for a movie.  Despite the stellar performances of his talented cast, Polish bogs down his film with an over-reliance on the reciting of Kerouac’s novel.  The words are often agonizingly beautiful, but Polish really needed to exercise some restraint with its use. Instead of a device used to heighten the action on the screen, the narration becomes an intrusive distraction. The On the Road adaptation did not feature enough of that Kerouac style, while Big Sur overdoes it.

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