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This is not just the true story of very determined man named Alvin Straight, it is also a truly straightforward story, an unusual thing in modern movies and a real surprise coming from David Lynch.  With his own mortality staring him in the face, Alvin Straight, 73 years old, decides to go visit the once beloved brother, Lyle, from whom he has been estranged for ten years, their quarrel a product of sibling rivalry as old as the Bible and the baleful influence of liquor.  What might have been a simple enough five hour car ride becomes an epic journey when he decides to travel the 300 miles from Laurens, Iowa to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin on a riding lawnmower:

    I've got to go see Lyle, and I've got to make the trip on my own.

Along the way he meets a young runaway girl; a woman who plows into a deer in front of him, apparently a near daily occurrence for her; a couple who allow him to spend a few days with them after he fries a motor on a steep downhill grade; a fellow WWII vet tending bar; and finally a pastor in whose cemetery he stops overnight.  Over the course of the six week sojourn he slowly reveals himself and his regrets for his part in the feud that has separated him from his brother.  As he tells the pastor:

    I want to sit with him and look up at the stars, like we used to, so long ago.

When finally he gets to Lyle's place, his penance done, the two do indeed sit in comfortable silence on the front porch, as the stars come up overhead.  It's the kind of speechless togetherness that only people who truly love one another are capable of maintaining and enjoying.

This is entirely Richard Farnsworth's film, a role he richly deserved after a lifetime in the movies.  He began in Hollywood as a teenager in 1937, doubled for Roy Rogers and Gary Cooper, drove a chariot in The Ten Commandments, worked as a stuntman, a role player, and only very occasionally the lead.  Farnsworth was one of the few truly conservative people left in Hollywood and maybe the only one in recent memory who sometimes turned down films that failed to meet his own ethical standards--as regards profanity, sex, and violence.  Somehow--and I've no idea how--that integrity was etched into his face.

In the underrated movie The Big Kahuna there's a scene early on where a young man tells Danny DeVito that a secretary said he'd be easily recognizable because his face has character.  Later on there are scenes where DeVito is almost preternaturally calm and the only forward momentum of the story is supplied by that character-filled face.  Farnsworth had such a face too and that's an exceedingly rare quality in any human being, but especially an actor, particularly in a day and age when special effects, plastic surgery, and bad scripts have made it easy to cast pleasant looking idiots in most movie roles.  Recall the scene in Sunset Boulevard when Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) says : "We had faces then".  In that silent era faces were required because they had to communicate.  Today, when the films don't even bother trying to communicate anything, who cares if the faces say anything?  Well, when you see what a real face, like Farnsworth's, can convey, you'll realize what we're missing.

Fittingly, this was Richard Farnsworth's last role.  Like Alvin Straight he went out on his own terms; stricken with a painful terminal cancer, he shot himself on October 6, 2000.

(Reviewed:10-Apr-02)

Grade: (A)

Websites:

See also:

1 (2 movies reviewed)
    -FILM SITE : The Straight Story (Disney)
    -INFO : The Straight Story (1999) (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Richard Farnsworth (Imdb)
    -TRIBUTE : Good Night, Cowboy : Remembering The Straight Story's Richard Farnsworth  (Ty Burr, Entertainment Weekly)
    -TRIBUTE : He rode into Hollywood on a horse, but rode out on a lawnmower (RON MILLER, TheColumnists.com)
    -OBIT : COWBOY'S WAY : The straight story on the life and death of Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth (Jeff Jensen , Entertainment Weekly)
    -OBIT : Actor Richard Farnsworth found dead at home (CNN, October 7, 2000)
    -OBIT : Actor Richard Farnsworth dies (BBC)
    -OBIT : Actor Richard Farnsworth Kills Himself  (Mark Armstrong, E! Online News)
    -OBIT : Crossing The Line : Homespun Dignity Was No Act : Genteel former stuntman Richard Farnsworth (1920-2000) let roles inhabit him (Carmen Ficarra, Movie Maker)
    -PROFILE : STRAIGHT ARROW : Fall's surprise Best Actor contender is an overnight success after just 62 years in show business. (Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly)
    -PROFILE : 'Straight Story' role came naturally to Richard Farnsworth (MICHELLE KOIDIN, March 11, 2000, NANDO)
    -INTERVIEW : Richard Farnsworth : The Straight Story (Interviewed by Film 2000 with Jonathan Ross, 9th October 2000, BBC)
    -INTERVIEW : Straight Talking : Richard Farnsworth was happily retired on his ranch until David Lynch persuaded him to star in The Straight Story. Now he's a bigger star than ever (Chad Jones, December 4, 1999, The Guardian)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : David Lynch (Imdb)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (James Bernardelli, Reel Views)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Christopher Heyn, Christian Spotlight on the Movies)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Michael Elliott, Movie Parables)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Janet Maslin, New York Times)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Edward Guthmann, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Wesley Morris, SF Examiner)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Ron Wells, Film Threat)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Liz Braun, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (David Edelstein, Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Stuart Klawans, The Nation)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (James Brundage, filmcritic.com
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Tom Block, Culture Vulture)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Elizabeth Weitzman, Film.com)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Jaime N. Christley, Film Written)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (Gemma Files, Eye Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Straight Story (David Walsh, World Socialist Website)
    <a href=http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/reviews/details.php?id=280>-REVIEW : of The Straight Story</a> (Kevin Jackson, Sight and Sound)

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