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USA 1999
Directed by
David Lynch
112 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Straight Story

Were it not for Angelo Badalamenti’s distinctive score and some stuffed deer you probably wouldn’t be aware that this otherwise quite straighforward if not downright apple pie wholesome (it has a G rating) slice of mid-West Americana was directed by David Lynch who hitherto has built up an exemplary C.V. with darkly unsettling films dealing with the dark side of human nature.

Based on a true story if this film had been made by a less visionary director it would have been a quite prosaic affair with a sentimental even feelgood vibe to it. Lynch hews close to the template but his difference is in the detail – yes there’s the stuffed deer but most of the time its in  the framing of a shot, the obliqueness of encounters, the editing that doesn’t try to embellish the simplicity of the story yet at the same time keeps us from being bored. This is a rare quality in American film.

Essential to the success of the film is the expressive face of Richard Farnsworth as Alvin Straight, the old geezer travelling 320 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin on a ride-on mower to visit his equally decrepit brother (played by Harry Dean Stanton who only appears in the closing scene). The trip which took six weeks in actually is only depicted sporadically by a few intermittent episodes. There are also few of what you might expect – long takes of an old man on a mower. Rather what holds the film together is the awareness that the trip is a pilgrimage of expiation for Alvin who deeply regrets that he fell out with his brother with whom he was once so close.

It is shameful that Farnsworth lost the Best Actor Oscar to Kevin Spacey that year (for his performance in American Beauty) for it is up to him to make this material emotionally engaging and yet at the same time keep to the laconicism of his character. Here the script by John Roach and Mary Sweeney helps by giving him the opportunity to articulate his philosophy in an unforced way whilst the cinematography by Lynch regular Freddie Francis provides a suitably mellow visual context for his journey.

Of course there is the chance that you won’t buy into The Straight Story at all but this will probably be due to your mood.  It is a finely-crafted film, just not Lynch as we know him.




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