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Big Sur DVD Review

Big Sur (2013) movie poster Big Sur

Theatrical Release: November 1, 2013 / Running Time: 81 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Michael Polish / Writers: Jack Kerouac (novel), Michael Polish (screenplay)

Cast: Jean-Marc Barr (Jack Kerouac), Kate Bosworth (Billie), Josh Lucas (Neal Cassady), Anthony Edwards (Lawrence Ferlinghetti), Balthazar Getty (Michael McLure), Patrick Fischler (Lew Welch), Stana Katic (Lenora), Henry Thomas (Philip Whalen), John Robinson (Paul Smith), Radha Mitchell (Carolyn Cassady)

Buy Big Sur from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

Considered the voice of a generation and one of the most iconic writers of the 20th century, Jack Kerouac is not very well represented on film. The author and poet lived to see just one of his novels turned into a feature film in 1960's The Subterraneans. After that,
no one dared turn Kerouac into any movie other than a documentary. That changed with 2012's On the Road, a film that, despite an attention-grabbing cast that included Kristen Stewart, came and went on immaterial hype. Big Sur, the latest filming of a Kerouac novel, didn't even fare that well, opening to minimal interest in 13 theaters last November and slowly, quietly disappearing until this month's widely overlooked DVD release.

Adapting the autobiographical 1962 book of the same name, Big Sur does away with the publisher-required character names to give us the real people for whom they're standing in. Our protagonist is Kerouac himself (played by Euro-seasoned actor Jean-Marc Barr), who is wrestling with "the unbearable anguish of insanity." Years after On the Road is embraced as the Beat Generation's definitive work, Kerouac is nearly forty years old and, in his own words, bored and jaded. His friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards) lets him stay at his cabin in the titular coastal region of central California.

Jean-Marc Barr plays Jack Kerouac in the 2013 adaptation of Kerouac's "Big Sur."

Jack has a number of friends who drive him places and make for friendly company. He describes each of them in his rapid, rambling voiceover narration. But he also has an affinity for the bottle. Drinking overcomes every other urge and emotion he feels. He describes the proper way to binge drink and the need to sleep it off, which becomes difficult when alcohol is the only thing making you drowsy in the first place.

Among Jack's pals is Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas), a mechanic and family man who has recently done jail time on a marijuana charge. Jack gives an out-of-work Neal $100 without batting an eye. Neal sets Jack up with his mistress, Billie (Kate Bosworth), giving birth to a relationship no one quite understands. Saddened by the deaths of his cat, an otter, and a mouse, Jack stumbles through his experiences, eventually replacing his diet of chocolate bars and apple slices with a variety of hard liquor.

Jack is introspective, his racing mind shared with us in a stream of consciousness right until the end credits arrive early (at the 75-minute mark) but not early enough to have turned off many viewers unable to go along with such delirium.

Big Sur cabin loaner Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards) recommends Jack Kerouac switch to white wine. For his health! The mistress of a friend turned his own lover, Billie (Kate Bosworth) wants Jack to love her in return.

Big Sur is a curious film. It's adapted and directed by Michael Polish, an independent filmmaker whose biggest credit to date was the offbeat 2007 drama The Astronaut Farmer starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Polish has mostly stayed scarce since then, reuniting with Thornton in the little-seen 2009 comedy The Sweet Smell of Success. Still, he was able to put together a supporting cast of some renown, including Radha Mitchell, Henry Thomas, Balthazar Getty, and "Castle"'s Stana Katic. In the two and a half years between production and release, Polish went on to marry Bosworth.

Polish shows clear admiration for the source text and Kerouac's writing style, which he tries his hardest to faithfully translate to the screen. As revered an artist as he may be, Kerouac's stories do not seem especially film-friendly. Big Sur is an improvement over On the Road, but then it doesn't wield the baggage, expectations, or cast of that Walter Salles-directed disappointment. With its challenging rhythm and foggy narrative, Big Sur is already resigned to esoteric status, but that seems to suit Polish and everyone else involved here just fine. They're not aiming for Oscars, merely for the opportunity to celebrate and bring to life the work of a literary legend.

Big Sur DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None
Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $20.99
Black Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video


No one will mistake Ketchup Entertainment's DVD for a Blu-ray, but, though not overly sharp, the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation gets the job done, presenting the many idyllic California locales nicely, with a slight warm glow and without concern. Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes are offered. The default former pleased without making a huge impression. There's one clear mid-stream disconnect, but we can presumably chalk that up to the choppiness of Kerouac's Beat prose. Disappointingly, the disc opts for closed captions instead of subtitles, which won't do any favors for hearing impaired viewers whose player is connected by the otherwise preferable HDMI cable that renders them inaccessible.

Josh Lucas enjoys the view on the Big Sur DVD main menu.


Big Sur's only extra
is its trailer (1:43).

The DVD opens with trailers for The Starving Games, Linsanity, and Sweetwater, none of which are accessible by menu.

The piano-scored main menu plays clips in a rectangle against an emptied portion of the cover art's backdrop.

No inserts or slipcovers accompany the uncut Eco-Box keepcase.

The Cassady family is grateful for Jack's financial assistance. Jack Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr) plays a little game with a friend who needs cheering up.


Adapting Jack Kerouac seems to be a tall creative challenge unlikely to win you an audience in spite of the author's legendary reputation. Many who give Michael Polish's Big Sur a look might consider it insufferable, but others will find this unnerving dreamlike meander different and oddly rewarding. I'm torn between those reactions, appreciating the production's outside-the-box thinking without quite enjoying its amorphousness. I can most easily recommend it to viewers craving something other than the typical narrative that still retains some accessibility.

Buy Big Sur from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Kate Bosworth: And While We Were Here 21 Remember the Titans | Josh Lucas: Glory Road Sweet Home Alabama
Anthony Edwards: Top Gun Zodiac Flipped | Radha Mitchell: Standing Up Finding Neverland
Balthazar Getty: Brothers & Sisters: The Complete First Season | Stana Katic: Castle: The Complete First Season
Midnight in Paris Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Mad Men: Season 6 Peggy Sue Got Married Greetings from Tim Buckley As I Lay Dying
New: Bonnie & Clyde (2013) The Fifth Estate Blue Jasmine Last Vegas Linsanity Sweetwater

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Reviewed January 30, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 Ketchup Entertainment, 3311 Productions and ARC Entertainment.
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