Lone Star (1996 film)

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Lone Star
Lone Star film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Sayles
Produced by R. Paul Miller
Maggie Renzi
Written by John Sayles
Starring Ron Canada
Chris Cooper
Clifton James
Kris Kristofferson
Frances McDormand
Joe Morton
Elizabeth Peña
Music by Mason Daring
Cinematography Stuart Dryburgh
Edited by John Sayles
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • June 21, 1996 (1996-06-21) (United States)
Running time
135 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,000,000 (estimated)[1]
Box office $12,408,986[1]

Lone Star is a 1996 American mystery film written and directed by John Sayles and set in a small town in Texas. The ensemble cast features Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey, and Elizabeth Peña and deals with a sheriff's investigation into the murder of one of his predecessors. The movie was filmed in Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Laredo,Texas.[2]


Sheriff Sam Deeds has little heart for the politics or tough-on-crime policies that his job requires. Sam got the job because of his father, legendary Sheriff Buddy Deeds who is remembered as fair and just by the citizens of the county. However, Sam remembers Buddy as a distant parent who cheated on his mother with an unnamed mistress. Sam is particularly disapproving of efforts by Mayor Hollis Pogue, a former deputy of Buddy's, and business leader Mercedes Cruz, to rename the local courthouse in Buddy's honor. As a teenager Sam had been in love with Mercedes' daughter Pilar, but the courtship was opposed by both of their parents. After a chance meeting, Sam and the now-widowed Pilar slowly resume their courtship.

Colonel Delmore Payne has recently arrived in town to oversee the decommissioning of the local military base. Delmore is the son of Otis "Big O" Payne, a local nightclub owner and leading figure in the area's small African-American community. The two are estranged because of Otis' serial infidelity and abandonment of Delmore's mother when Delmore was a child. One day, some of Delmore's men discover a human skeleton on an old shooting range and, nearby, a Masonic ring and a bullet not used by the military. Sam becomes convinced that the skeleton is that of Charlie Wade, the brutal and corrupt sheriff who had preceded Buddy. One night years ago, Wade had simply disappeared, apparently absconding with payoff money which he had extorted from local businessmen.

As Sam investigates the events leading up to Wade's apparent murder he learns how the former Sheriff terrorized the local Mexican community, including murdering Mercedes Cruz' husband Eladio, whom he caught smuggling undocumented immigrants. Wade also extorted protection money from local businesses, including the bar where Otis Payne worked. Sam also learns that Buddy, while popular with the residents of the county, was corrupt in his own way. Buddy used political patronage to help enrich his friends and allies. Eventually, Sam comes to believe that Buddy murdered Charlie Wade after a confrontation at the bar where Otis worked. After he confronts Otis and Hollis with his suspicions, the two reveal the truth. Wade had shown up at the bar intending to kill Otis, who had talked back to him earlier. Buddy did confront Wade, but it was Hollis who shot and killed him. Otis, Hollis and Buddy had buried the body and Buddy had given Wade's payoff money to his mistress, Mercedes Cruz, who used it to start her business. Sam declines to press charges against Hollis, reasoning that Buddy's reputation can handle the tarnish of being associated with Wade's disappearance. Returning to Pilar, he explains that her purported father, Eladio Cruz, had died a year and a half before she was born, and shows her an old photo of Buddy and Mercedes together revealing that Buddy is her real father. The two decide that they are too old to have children, so decide to continue their romantic relationship.



Critical response[edit]

The film received highly positive reviews with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 35 out of 38 reviews were positive for a score of 92% and a certification of "fresh."[3] Two years after release, Jack Mathews of the Los Angeles Times declared it "critically acclaimed and darn near commercial."[4] In retrospect from 2004, William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said that the film was "widely regarded as Sayles' masterpiece," declaring that it had "captured the zeitgeist of the '90s as successfully as "Chinatown" did the '70s."[5]

Writing at the time of release, Janet Maslin of The New York Times said, "This long, spare, contemplatively paced film, scored with a wide range of musical styles and given a sun-baked clarity by Stuart Dryburgh's cinematography, is loaded with brief, meaningful encounters... And it features a great deal of fine, thoughtful acting, which can always be counted on in a film by Mr. Sayles."[6] "All the film's characters are flesh and blood," Maslin added, pointing particularly to the portrayals by Kristofferson, Canada, James, Morton and Colon.[6] Film critics Dennis West and Joan M. West of Cineaste praised the psychological aspects of the film, writing, "Lone Star strikingly depicts the personal psychological boundaries that confront many citizens of Frontera as a result of living in such close proximity to the border."[7] Ann Hornaday for the Austin American-Statesman declared it "a work of awesome sweep and acute perception," judging it "the most accomplished film of [Sayles'] 17-year career."[8]

However, not all contemporary critics were completely positive. While The Washington Post writer Hal Hinson characterized it as "a carefully crafted, unapologetically literary accomplishment," he said that Sayles' "directing style hasn't grown much beyond that of a first-year film student," declaring the director was "stagnant."[9]




  1. ^ a b Molyneaux, Gerry (19 May 2000). John Sayles: An Unauthorized Biography of the Pioneer Indy Filmmaker. St. Martin's Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-58063-125-9. 
  2. ^ Lone Star at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ Lone Star at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ Mathews, Jack (13 March 1998). "Sayles Again Goes His Own Way With Effective 'Guns'". Los Angeles Times. p. F14. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  5. ^ Arnold, William (16 September 2004). "John Sayles' timely political lampoon aims squarely at George W. Bush". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  6. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (21 June 1996). "Sleepy Texas Town With an Epic Story". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  7. ^ West, Dennis; West, Joan M. (Summer 1996). Cineaste 22 (3): 34. 
  8. ^ Hornaday, Ann (28 June 1996). "'Lone Star' shines brightly". Austin American-Statesman. p. E1. 
  9. ^ "'Lone Star': Stagnant Sayles". The Washington Post. 12 July 1996. p. F6. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 

External links[edit]