Lonely Are the Brave

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4 out of 5 stars
Lonely Are the Brave

You could never accuse David Miller’s 1962 testosterone-infused tragedy of being subtle: As Kirk Douglas’s rugged cowpoke Jack Burns snoozes on the range, his siesta is interrupted by the sound of loud jets passing overhead. This out-of-touch outlaw then tries to ride his horse across a freeway of speeding Chevys. The wild, wild West of America’s collective imagination, circa mid-20th century, is deader than Dale Evans; in case you still haven’t gotten the clue, a character exclaims, “the world that you live in doesn’t exist anymore, Jack.... Maybe it never did!” Still, no pesky machines are going to stop this anachronistic antihero from doing what a real cowboy would do, i.e., bust out an incarcerated buddy. (The fact that his pal, a scribe who’s in the pokey over ideological issues, resembles the film’s recently blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is not the least bit coincidental.)

Once Burns goes on the lam himself, Lonely Are the Brave pushes aside the more obvious man-against-the-modern-world metaphors in favor of a spare, sharklike tale of pursuit. That’s where this underrated neo-Western’s real strength lies, not in its revisionist hand-wringing but in the fun of watching Douglas, all cleft chin and clenched jaw, elude his capturers. Even at its most ponderous, however, Miller’s film bristles with a brutal energy (see the Fulleresque fight between Burns and a one-armed drunk) and the sort of stark humanistic drama that was the 1960s’ stock-in-trade. A featurette in which the elderly Douglas and Steven Spielberg praise the film is passable, but the brief portrait of Jerry Goldsmith at work is a must for fans of the late composer.—David Fear

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