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
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 (Chris Cooper) is the county sheriff in Frontera, Texas, a fictional border town in the fictional Rio County. Sam has little enthusiasm for his job and the local politics that go with the job. Sam got the job because his late father had been a popular and legendary Sheriff Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), who is remembered as fair and just by the citizens of Rio County. However, Sam had many problems with his father and the pair routinely argued and fought.

Sam is particularly disapproving of efforts by Mayor Hollis Pogue (Clifton James), Buddy's chief deputy and best friend, and business leader Mercedes Cruz (Míriam Colón), to rename the local courthouse in Buddy's honor. As a teenager, Sam had been in love with Mercedes' daughter Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), but the courtship was opposed by both of their parents. After a chance meeting at the courthouse dedication ceremony, Sam and the now-widowed Pilar slowly resume their courtship.

Colonel Delmore Payne (Joe Morton) has recently arrived in town as the new base commander of the local U.S. Army base. Delmore is the son of Otis "Big O" Payne (Ron Canada), a local nightclub owner and leading figure in the area's 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 along with a Masonic ring, a Rio County sheriff's badge, and a bullet not used by the military. Sam brings in Texas Ranger Ben Wetzel to help with the case. Wetzel tells Sam that the forensics identify the skeleton as that of Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson), the notoriously brutal and corrupt sheriff who preceded Buddy. Sam and Wetzel recall the famous story known throughout the border region of how one night in 1957 Charlie Wade mysteriously disappeared with $10,000 ($84,300 today) in county funds and Buddy took over as sheriff shortly thereafter.

As Sam investigates the events leading up to Wade's apparent murder he learns how Wade terrorized the local African-American and Mexican community, including murdering Mercedes Cruz' husband Eladio, whom he shot after catching Eladio smuggling illegal Mexican immigrants into Rio County. Sam learns from the widow of Roderick Bledsoe, the former owner of Otis Payne's club, that Wade extorted money from them and other local businesses. She informs Sam that a young Otis had a run in with Wade, who nearly shot Otis but was saved by Roderick. Otis informs Sam that Buddy, while popular with the local community, was also corrupt and used political patronage to help enrich his friends and political allies to ensure his reelection as sheriff. Sam later meets an Indian tourist salesman who reveals that Buddy settled down after serving in the Korean War due to becoming a deputy sheriff and marrying Sam's mother. The Indian salesman confirms that Buddy had a mistress and that half of Rio County knew about the affair, but Sam's mother refused to leave Buddy. Sam travels to San Antonio, where he visits his ex-wife Bunny (Frances McDormand) and searches through his father's private things, where he discovers love letters to Buddy's mistress.

Late one night Sam returns to Frontera and confronts Hollis and Otis about the murder of Charlie Wade. Hollis and Otis reveal the truth of Charlie Wade's disappearance: Wade discovered that Otis was running an illegal gambling operation in the bar, something Otis had previously denied to Wade. Buddy arrived just as Wade was about to murder Otis but was shot by Hollis. Otis, Hollis, and Buddy buried Wade's body on the U.S. Army shooting range and took the $10,000 from the county and gave it to Eladio Cruz's poverty stricken widow Mercedes Cruz, who Hollis reveals was Buddy's mistress, to buy her restaurant. Sam declines to press charges against Hollis and Otis, saying it will remain an unsolved mystery, but when Hollis voices concern that Buddy's reputation will be tarnished if the skeleton is revealed to be Charlie Wade, Sam simply states Buddy's legend can handle it.

The next morning Pilar meets Sam at an abandoned drive-in movie, where he reveals that her alleged father, Eladio Cruz, was killed one year and a half before Pilar's birth. Sam shows Pilar an old photo of Buddy and Pilar's mother, thus revealing that her real father is Buddy. Both are hurt over the deception of their parents but decide that they want to continue their romantic relationship, despite the newfound knowledge that they are half-siblings.



Critical response[edit]

The film received highly positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 43 out of 46 reviews were positive for a score of 93% 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]


  • Lone Star Film & Television Awards: Best Actor, Chris Cooper; Best Director, John Sayles; Best Film; Best Screenplay, John Sayles; Best Supporting Actor, Ron Canada; Best Supporting Actress, Frances McDormand; 1996.
  • Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics; Grand Prix
  • Independent Spirit Awards: Independent Spirit Award; Best Supporting Female, Elizabeth Peña ; 1997.
  • Bravo Awards: NCLR Bravo Award Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film, Elizabeth Peña; Special Achievement Award Outstanding Feature Film; 1997.
  • Satellite Awards: Golden Satellite Award; Best Motion Picture Screenplay - Original, John Sayles; 1997.
  • Society of Texas Film Critics Awards: Best Director, John Sayles; Best Screenplay, John Sayles.
  • Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards: SEFCA Award; Best Director, John Sayles; 1997.


  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. Vol. 22 no. 3. p. 34.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  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. 

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