I highly recommend this wonderful film that I saw recently at the
press screening. The film starts locally this coming Friday (June 21)
at the Camera One Cinema in San Jose.
LONE STAR is the latest film from the great writer and director
John Sayles (THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, MATEWAN, EIGHT MEN OUT,
CITY OF HOPE, PASSION FISH and THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH among others).
Sayles's pictures are always bursting with humanity. The scripts are
intelligent and his films are rich with talented actors. He manages to
find excellent although usually lessor known actors to play even the
most minor roles. LONE STAR is one of the high points of his body of
work. Every member of the cast delivers a heartfelt performance.
LONE STAR has at its core a 40 year old murder mystery that rears
its ugly head to confront and trouble the multiracial town of Eagle
Pass in Rio County on the Texas and Mexican border. Although the
solving of the mystery provides an effect glue to keep the story
together, the movie is actually three parallel stories about the local
history of people of Anglo, African and Mexican ancestry. These groups
are even more fragmented into some that are soldiers and others that
are illegal aliens.
As the story opens, two soldiers, Cliff (Stephen Mendillo) and
Mikey (Stephen Lang), find a skull. When new Sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris
Cooper) arrives, he is not sure what it means, reflecting, "No telling
yet if there's been a crime, but this country's seen a fair amount of
disagreements over the years."
The locals are not impressed with their sheriff. They say "he is
all hat and no cattle." They still remember his father Buddy Deeds
(Matthew McConaughey) who was beloved by all racial groups and believed
to be the best sheriff there ever was. Sam has a limited view of his
role in life declaring, "I'm just a jailer. I run a 60 room hotel with
bars on the windows." As John Sayles says in the press kit, "Just as
the legend of the Alamo has helped to define Texas, so has the legend
of Buddy Deeds defined his son Sam."
The best thing Buddy did was run the racist, evil, and corrupt
previous sheriff Charley Wadd (Kris Kristofferson) out of town and then
get his position as sheriff of Rio County. Since Charley has never
been heard of in 40 years and since the skull is about that old, the
narrative drive in the movie surrounds whether there could have been
foul play back then. This mystery works really well, but it is not the
best part of the picture nor the centerpiece. All of the acting by all
of the wonderful characters we get to meet is the reason to see the
The best performance is the reserved and lonely one by Chris
Cooper as Sam. One bartender tells him, "I'm clever as the next guy."
Sam looks at him real serious and says, "If the next guy is a redneck."
Sam's ex-girlfriend from high school, Pilar Cruz, is played simply but
effectively by Elizabeth Pena. Pilar's mom Mercedes (Miriam Colon) is
a first generation Mexican-American and is one of the biggest racist in
the show. She detests illegal aliens and generally treats poor
Mexican-Americans like dirt. As a one-dimensional bad guy, Kris
Kristofferson is perfect.
The blacks in the story have two role models. One is Otis Payne
(Ron Canada) who runs the local bar where the blacks have hung out for
years. Canada is great as an old sage who is somehow connected to the
mysteries from the past. His philosophy is "It's not like there's a
line between the good people and the bad people. It is not like you're
one or the other." One of my favorite philosophers from the show is an
Indian who runs an obscure little shop on a dusty road. He tells Sam,
"This stretch of road runs between nowhere and not much else."
Otis's grown up son Delmore is played by Joe Morton (THE BROTHER
FROM ANOTHER PLANET, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, OF MICE AND MEN, and
SPEED among others). Delmore has just arrived as the leader of the
military base near the town. Otis and he are estranged, and when they
meet, Otis says of him contemptuously that he had heard that "Colonel
Payne is a real hard case. A spit and polish man."
Sayles's script is naturally funny in a low key fashion. It is
also full of poignancy. So many scenes are special, but two of my
favorites are a slow dancing scene that is lovingly photographed by
Stuart Dryburgh, and the other is of the abandoned drive-in theater
where Sam and Pilar used to make out.
The wonderful music (Mason Daring) runs from twangy mysterious
melodies to nostalgic Mexican songs. As a native Texan, I liked the
way the accents were realistic. Too often filmmakers overdo Southern
accents. Certainly some locals have thick accents, but not all. The
sets (Dan Bishop) are typical Texas hokey right down to the gun stocks
that are used as draft beer handles at the bar.
Perhaps my favorite technical aspect of the film is the editing,
also by Sayles. Many scenes would move 40 years with just a pan and
without any cuts. This was a perfect way to show how the present is
just an extension of the past; they are one.
Finally, look for Frances McDormand, the star of FARGO, who plays
Sam's ex-wife Bunny. She again demonstrates her wide range of acting
talent. Here she is a hyperactive sports junkie of all things. What a
change from her role in FARGO as a laid back pregnant detective.
LONE STAR runs a full 2:15, but given the time it spends delving
into the lives of so many people and many racial communities, this
feels short if anything. The film is rated R. There is a little sex,
no nudity, and a little violence. I thought it should have been PG-13.
Perhaps they used the F word a few times, and I missed it. At any
rate, I think it would be fine for kids 10 and up. I strongly
recommend this wonderful, insightful, and heartwarming film to you and
award it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes