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Film honors brave author

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By Kelly LeVan

In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, actor Kirk Douglas calls “Lonely are the Brave” (1962) his favorite of the more than 60 films on his resume. I understand why.Based on Edward Abbey’s novel “Brave Cowboy,” David Miller’s film begins with a cowboy and his horse, alone in the dust outside of Duke City, N.M., a.k.a. Albuquerque.The horse, Whiskey, doesn’t want to be saddled. John W. “Jack” Burns (Kirk) seems to regret it, but nevertheless tightens the leather strap around its belly.Burns’ respect for Whiskey permeates the film, as well as his deep attachment to his way of life: eating out of a can of beans, sleeping wherever he lights his campfire and cutting holes in fences that interrupt the countryside.In Burns’ mind, there’s no such thing as a barrier.The first shock of the movie comes in the form of a highway, ’50s-style cars tearing down the asphalt. The expressway feels so out of place; I felt as spooked by the speed and noise as Burns’ horse.It’s not the Old West, despite how Burns lives. And through the course of the story, the initial shock of meeting “modern” civilization only grows as “progress” proves itself unstoppable.Abbey fans will love this movie. Dalton Trumbo’s script, Walter Matthau’s portrayal of Sheriff Morey Johnson and Kirk’s transformation into the cowboy perfectly capture Abbey’s spirit – his tough, uncompromising, unsentimental love for freedom and his crude but spot-on wit.I’ve read several of Abbey’s books. “The Fool’s Progress,” his huge and soul-bearing masterpiece, remains one of the best books I’ve ever read.Abbey believed a man (or woman? That part’s a bit unclear) needs to cut down fences. Civilized life doesn’t permit enough intimacy between man and country, and both suffer horribly.Abbey achieved notoriety as a radical environmentalist who advocated terrorism against billboards. “Lonely are the Brave” presents his quieter, equally prevalent side: the cowboy who will never keep up, the misfit who reminds us what we lost.“Lonely are the Brave” screens at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 3 at Mesa Public Library as part of the Free Film Series. The movie is 107 minutes long and unrated.There is some violence (a bar brawl), very little sexuality and no foul language. However, the film does encourage a shameless disregard for the law.