Title: Lone Star
Director: John Sayles
Cast: Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Pena, Matthew McConaughey, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Morton, Frances McDormand
Synopsis: Sheriff Sam Deeds (Cooper) presides over a seemingly-quiet Texas border town. However, literal and figurative skeletons are dug up when the remains of crooked former sheriff, Charlie Wade (Kristofferson), are found in the desert. Not only does this unearth a long-buried tale of corruption, but it also forces Sam to reconcile the memory of his late father, Buddy Deeds, a former sheriff who’s still revered in the community as a hero. While Sam is living in the shadow of his dad, he’s also facing opposition in an upcoming election and somehow navigates a tense racial climate brewing in the community while rekindling an old love affair with Pilar (Pena) an old flame who is now a school teacher.
Critique: Lone Star isn’t specific enough to qualify as a revisionist western, but the same can be said for practically all of John Sayles’ films, as they all have that flicker of distinction that places them in a league of their own. Lone Star, though, is the go-to title I invoke whenever I make the case for westerns being my favorite genre. John Sayles understands history in a way that suits the myth of American lore while rightfully subverting its conventions in a manner that’s thoroughly tailored for filmic structure. The subtly-structured potency of his politically-minded and socially progressive stories wear some recognizable genre machinations. Still, the roiling sincerity of his deliberately unhurried pacing relates a candid sense of intelligence that’s free of pretension of haughty moralizing. Lone Star’s multi-character mosaic and the nonlinear narrative is complex and diverse, and yet the film relinquishes itself to an undemanding delivery. Just as Sayles’ 1987 masterpiece (another revisionist western) Matewan relates the economic and racial turmoil of the Reaganoid influence of the present day to a period of similar woe, Lone Star channels the relevance of a corrupt past and mythic obfuscation while serving as a prescient reflection of contemporary concerns. Lone Star and its loaded screenplay presents itself with strong-willed confidence and assured construction that’s distinctive in a singular form of authorship.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: The Sayles/Criterion ice was officially broken last year with the inauguration of Matewan. Thankfully there are rumors that more of the director’s work is in line for a spine number, and, over the years, much of John Sayles’ work has been the focus of this column. Matewan, The Story of Roan Inish, City of Hope, Passion Fish, naturally Lone Star, one of the directors premier films, would make an appearance here. Furthermore, no one else has taken the initiative with the film, why shouldn’t the good folks at The Criterion Collection strike first?