Lone Star (1996)

Lone Star (1996)

A rich tapestry that weaves together America’s past and present with expert fluidity

The Very Best

8.0

Movie

United States of America
English, Spanish
Drama, Mystery, Romance
1996
JOHN SAYLES
Beatrice Winde, Chandra Wilson, Chris Cooper
135 min

TLDR

A slow burn with a scorcher of an ending you’ll never see coming.

What it's about

When a small-town Texas sheriff is called to investigate the discovery of a skull in the desert, his pursuit of the truth leads him to skeletons lying closer to home.

The take

All kinds of lines — those separating good and bad, past and present, and even international borders — are blurred in this neo-Western gem. Though it’s entirely set in a small Texas border town, Lone Star pulls off all the gravity and sweep of an epic thanks to its seemingly-micro-actually-macro focuses and sprawling ensemble. It’s all kickstarted by the discovery of a skull in the scrub near Frontera, Texas; Sheriff Sam Deeds (a quietly captivating Chris Cooper) thinks he knows who it belongs to and who might have buried it there: his deceased father Buddy (Matthew McConaughey), the much-loved former sheriff of the town whose shadow Sam has long been living in.

And so an investigation of this historic crime begins, unearthing along the way many more skeletons — both individual and national — as Sam interviews those who knew his father and the victim. Lone Star’s brilliance is in the way it entwines with Sam’s investigation a broader exploration of America’s sins and their lingering legacies, particularly the many-headed effects of its history of racism. Lone Star weaves its political and personal elements together with seamless flourish, making for a rich tapestry of America’s past and present that never sidesteps the grander questions it provokes.

What stands out

The editing (by writer-director John Sayles) is certainly a highlight — flitting between the past and present with both visual and narrative smoothness — but we’d be remiss not to spotlight the superlative ensemble here. From Sam’s childhood sweetheart Pilar (Elizabeth Peña) and her haughty mother Mercedes (Miriam Colon) to the commander of a local army post (Joe Morton) and his estranged father Otis (Ron Canada), Lone Star boasts a true-to-life tangle of characters who give the film a deep sense of being lived in. Add to that some magnetic bit-parts — including Beatrice Winde as a sharp-tongued, Game Boy-loving widow and Frances McDormand as Sam’s overwrought ex-wife — and Lone Star becomes a banquet of unforgettable performances.

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