Lone Star Review

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The mystery of a small town sheriff's disapppearance is resurrected 30 years later.


Almost uniquely among contemporary film makers, John Sayles has never directed a bad film. While most independent director-writers concentrate on refining their narrow fields of interest, essentially making the same film over and over, Sayles is astonishingly eclectic. His body of work is unified only by intelligence and commitment, ranging across genres, moods and scales.

In a terrific opening, a couple of off-duty soldiers fooling around in the desert near the border town of Frontera discover a human skull. Sheriff Sam Deeds (Cooper) is called in and guesses the long-dead man might have been Charlie Wade (Kristofferson), an old-school lawman of the "bullets and bribes" school who disappeared 30 years earlier, after an argument with Sam's dad, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey). Buddy, Sheriff before his son, is a legendary local whose stature is by no means an unmixed blessing to Sam as he tries to make his way in a changing town.

Also mixed up are Pilar (Pena), a Hispanic history teacher whose teenage romance with Sam was squelched by Buddy, and Mercedes (Miriam Colon), Pilar's powerful restaurant-running mother. Colonel Payne (Joe Morton), C.O. of a soon-to-be-closed army base, has a tie-in through his father Otis (Ron Canada), who runs an off-limits bar. As Sam asks questions and prompts conflicting flashback anecdotes, he comes to understand his own intricate family backstory - which includes a kicker of a last-act revelation - and its relationship with the evolving political and racial situation along the border.

Like the earlier City Of Hope, Lone Star demands the viewer's complete engagement with a huge cast and depends on the gradual release of plot information that makes connections between characters grow as the film progresses. Even one-scene characters are unforgettable, but Sayles really gets under the skin of his struggling-to-be-heroic leads, Sam and Pilar.

Like all the best Westerns, this is at once a morality play about individual responsibility and a challenging essay about American history. You'll watch this for the third or fourth time and see fresh material. Outstanding.