movie film review | chris tookey

Lone Star

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  Lone Star Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
8.75 /10
Sam Deeds .......... Chris Cooper , Pilar .............. Elizabeth Pena , Charlie Wade ....... Kris Kristofferson
Full Cast >

Directed by: John Sayles
Written by: John Sayles

Released: 1996
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 136

Outstanding thriller by John Sayles.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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A skull and sheriff's badge are discovered on the land of a Texan military camp. They are the remains of Charley Wade (Kris Kristofferson), a corrupt, racist cop supposedly run out of town 40 years before by legendary lawman Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey). Nowadays, the sheriff is Buddy's son, Sam (Chris Cooper, pictured right), who lives in the shadow of his charismatic but long dead father, whom Sam remembers as a bully. Investigating the murder becomes Sam's way of getting his own back against Buddy, who is chief suspect.

Lone Star is also a bitter-sweet love story. For Sam is recently divorced, and anxious to remake contact with his Hispanic childhood sweetheart (Elizabeth Pena, pictured left), from whom he was forcibly separated at the age of 15.

Racial tension is never far beneath the surface. The town has two mayors, one official and white (Clifton James), the other unofficial and black (Ron Canada). Whites are now in a minority, and the various ethnic groups bicker constantly about how historical events like the Alamo should be taught in school.

Lone Star is illuminating, heavenly to look at, and has a host of stellar performances. But it does take its time to get off the ground. The first half-hour introduces so many characters and plot lines that it's easy to feel confused: who are these people? how do they relate to each other? Be patient - this is a movie with riches in store, and all will be revealed.

Set on the border between Texas and Mexico, Lone Star is a story about divisions: not only between countries and races, but also between parents and children. It is anything but a parochial film about the Tex-Mex border. It raises issues which are every bit as relevant to the troubles in Northern Ireland or the racial turmoil in Britain's inner cities.

The film goes beyond the political, too, by inviting us to re-examine our deepest feelings about our cultural and family history: do we allow the past to embitter us? to give us pride? to avoid taking personal responsibility for our own lives?

Writer-director John Sayles made his debut with the cult hit, The Return of the Secaucus Seven (1981), and he's made decent movies since - romps like Alligator (1980) and more thoughtful pieces like Matewan (1987) City of Hope (1991) and Passion Fish (1992) - but this is the movie where he achieved his full potential.

Sayles shifts brilliantly and fluidly between past and present, with a fascinating mixture of nostalgia and scepticism. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh does even better work than he did on The Piano and Once Were Warriors. They shoot their mythical frontier town - Frontera - in mythic fashion. Many images, especially the final one of a deserted movie drive-in, linger in the mind.

Sayles has amassed a fine repertory of actors to work with him over the years; and here, inspired by excellent dialogue and colourful characters, the actors are, without exception, superb - with sensational performances in supporting roles by Joe Morton, Frances McDormand and, perhaps the greatest revelation of all, Kris Kristofferson.

Matthew McConaughey is ideally cast as Buddy, who is rarely on-screen but whose legend suffuses the film. He looks like a taller Paul Newman, more clean-cut and charismatic than anyone in the present day. Buddy's surname - borrowed from the hero of Frank Capra's Mr Deeds Goes To Town - hints that he is a symbolic idealization, not only of old, liberal certainties, but also of the days when whites were firmly in the ascendant.

Chris Cooper, an actor usually seen in supporting roles, seizes his chance to prove that he is a thoughtful, sympathetic leading man; Sayles cleverly uses his lack of movie-star good looks, to establish him as a decent, ordinary guy, flawed by envy of his father but also the inheritor of Buddy's ideals about justice.

Lone Star is a shining light in the darkness of modern American cinema, one of only a very few highly intelligent, humane films to be released in 1996. Sayles manages to put across his ideas without a hint of didacticism, with characters who have a life of their own, and a storyline that steadily gathers momentum and power. He interweaves his plot strands with a skill that compares with Pulp Fiction and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The final twist is a tremendous storytelling coup: not only a shocking surprise, but a revelation that changes our perception of all that has gone before.

Lone Star was never going to be a commercial hit, but that reflects more on the dwindling attention span of modern audiences than on the film itself. This is a movie masterpiece which will repay seeing again and again. It's an initially demanding but very rewarding film - not to be missed by anyone who enjoys an excellent story, supremely well told.

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