Brave but not Brave Enough
There is part of me which feels like "Lonely Are the Brave" from 1962 is a wasted opportunity to deliver a movie of depth. It is most certainly entertaining and watching Kirk Douglas playing a loner cowboy in a modern world grabs your attention as does the storyline. But "Lonely Are the Brave" seems to be a movie which is there to entertain and not dig deeper under the surface of the characters. Now I am one for an entertaining movie and there is a place for a movie which treats you visually and tells a story, but "Lonely Are the Brave" is a rich area for something much more, a study of the man trying to live life his way in a world which is all about containment and rules.
Having learnt that his best friend Paul (Michael Kane) has got himself into some trouble, loner Jack (Kirk Douglas - Champion) rides into town where he learns from Paul's wife Jerry (Gena Rowlands - The Notebook) that he has been put in prison. Deciding to help, Jack gets himself thrown inside so that he can then break himself and Paul free. Whilst Paul decides that he would rather do his time than have to live life on the run Jack can't live caged up and manages to escape. But having collected his horse and headed into the hills, sheriff Morey (Walter Matthau - Charade) and his force of police men are on his trail and will use anything such as Helicopter's and jeeps to track Jack down and get him back in side.
The story to "Lonely Are the Brave" is quite simple with just enough build up to make it interesting. We watch as Jack a lone cowboy rides into what appears to be a 1950s town, a town with brick houses and busy highways where to help a friend out he gets thrown into prison to bust them both out. It's a well worked intro because it is slightly amusing whilst also showing the contrast between the modern busy world with walls and fences to the free roaming world where Jack lives. The scene where he is charged at the Police station demonstrates it brilliantly as he has no identification on him at all much to the amazement of the charging officer.
Set up done with and we watch Jack meet up with his friend Paul in Prison and try to escape, "Lonely Are the Brave" then veers towards the very simple. What we then get is Jack with his horse on the run, trying to make it to freedom through the rocky mountains whilst the police lead by Sheriff Morey Johnson try to capture him. Now this all very entertaining with a subtle stream of comedy running through it with the laconic Sheriff being harassed by his officers and Jack struggling with a mischievous horse. But I can't but help feel that director David Miller missed a trick by not delivering more of a character exploration.
What we get is moments of danger as Jack tries to lead his horse up the steep inclines accompanied by brief moments of action. But I felt I didn't really know any of the characters, I wanted to understand why Jack chose to be a loner, why he didn't want to be fenced in by modern living. And I wanted to know why Sheriff Johnson was so laconic and harassed. It just didn't deliver the depth of character exploration which I craved but gave drama instead.
Talking of which the drama side of "Lonely Are the Brave" works and delivers a surprising and disturbing ending. It's strange because you expect something and it happens yet you are still left shocked and this is mixed in with a bit of ambiguity. It is in fact a very clever ending in many ways superior to the rest of the movie.
You have to applaud Kirk Douglas because he takes Jack a relatively 2 dimensional character and makes him entertaining and interesting. In the first half of the movie the introduction and the prison scenes Douglas fills Jack with an element of comedy, the fact he whacks a policeman when it looks like he will be let go is just amusing and with Douglas's grin beaming across his face you instantly warm to him. But then you get the second half of the movie as we watch him trying to evade capture and Douglas manages to portray an almost complex character who is fighting urges of self preservation instead of preserving the way of the cowboy as highlighted in the scene where he has to choose between leaving his horse behind. It's just a shame that the actual lack of depth in the script lets him down.
That lack of depth also causes issues with Sheriff Morey Johnson so wonderfully played by Walter Matthau. Matthau creates another interesting character from some 2 dimensional writing so we are intrigued by his laconic ways, we want to know why he chews gum, why he gets annoyed but doesn't explode and that is down to a top performance by Matthau but the writing lets him down.
And that issue over depth affects the supporting cast which includes Gena Rowlands, George Kennedy and Michael Kane. Each of their characters have an important part to play especially that of Jerry Bondi played by Gena Rowlands but it feels like you never fully understand them or their relationship with Jack.
What this all boils down to is that "Lonely Are the Brave" is a movie which sets up some interesting characters yet never gives the depth of character so that we understand them, leaving it almost mysterious as to why they are as they are. That doesn't stop "Lonely Are the Brave" from being a very entertaining movie and to be honest it is easily above average but it feels like a wasted opportunity to deliver a movie which is entertaining in the simplest form yet has layers of hidden depth.