Lone Star (1996 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Sayles|
|Produced by||R. Paul Miller|
|Written by||John Sayles|
|Music by||Mason Daring|
|Edited by||John Sayles|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics|
|Box office||$13 million|
Lone Star is a 1996 American neo-western mystery film written, edited, and directed by John Sayles and set in a small town in South 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.
Sam Deeds is the sheriff of Rio County in Frontera, Texas. A native of Frontera, Sam returned two years ago and was elected sheriff. Sam's late father had been the legendary Sheriff Buddy Deeds, who is beloved by the town, remembered as a unique individual with a great sense of fairness and justice. As a teenager Sam had problems with his father and the pair routinely argued and fought.
Sam is particularly disapproving of efforts by local business leader Mercedes Cruz and Buddy's former chief deputy, Mayor Hollis Pogue, to enlarge and rename the local courthouse in Buddy's honor; he considers it an unneeded waste of taxpayers' money. As a teenager, Sam had been in love with Mercedes's daughter Pilar, but the courtship was strongly opposed by Buddy and Mercedes. After a chance meeting, Sam and the widowed Pilar, now a local teacher, slowly resume their relationship.
Colonel Delmore Payne has recently arrived in town as the commander of the local U.S. Army base. Delmore is the son of Otis "Big O" Payne, a local nightclub owner and leading figure in the African-American community. The two are estranged because of Otis's serial womanizing and abandonment of Delmore's mother when Delmore was a child. Two off-duty sergeants from the base discover a human skeleton on an old shooting range on the base along with a Masonic ring, a Rio County sheriff's badge, and later, an expended pistol bullet, very unusual on a rifle range. Sam brings in Texas Ranger Ben Wetzel to help with the case. Wetzel tells Sam that forensics identify the skeleton as that of Charlie Wade, the infamously corrupt and cruel sheriff who preceded Buddy. Wade mysteriously disappeared in 1957, taking $10,000 in county funds, after which Buddy became sheriff.
Sam investigates the events leading up to Wade's murder. He learns that Wade terrorized the local African-American and Mexican communities, including extorting money from local business owners on a monthly basis and numerous murders where he asks his innocent victims to show him any weapon they might have, to then justify shooting them for "resisting arrest". Wade used this method to murder, in front of Deputy Hollis, Mercedes' husband, Eladio, having discovered Eladio was running an illegal smuggling operation in Rio County without bribing Wade.
Sam also uncovers secrets about his father's nearly 30-year term as sheriff that reveal Buddy's own corruption. He visits Wesley Birdsong, a Native American and a roadside tourist stand owner, who reveals that Buddy was a wild young adult after his service in the Korean War but settled down after becoming a deputy sheriff and marrying Sam's mother; but he reveals that Buddy did have a mistress, whose name Wesley claims to have forgotten. Sam travels to San Antonio, where he visits his marginally mentally ill ex-wife Bunny and searches through his father's things, where he discovers love letters from Buddy's mistress. Otis tells Sam that Buddy's focus was on the county political machine while Wade's focus was on money. The janitor at the sheriff's office reveals to Sam that he worked on Buddy's home while incarcerated in the local jail. A local reporter uncovers that Buddy forcibly evicted residents of a small community to make a lake that made Frontera a popular tourist destination with Buddy and Hollis receiving lakefront property.
Sam confronts Hollis and Otis about Wade's murder. Wade discovered Otis was running an illegal gambling operation at the nightclub, after he had previously warned Otis against running numbers in the club. A furious Wade violently attacked Otis, ordered him to hand over the monthly extortion money, and then was about to use his "resisting arrest" setup to kill Otis. Buddy arrived just as Hollis shot Wade to prevent Otis's murder. The three buried the body and took the $10,000 from the county and gave it to Mercedes—who was destitute after Eladio's recent death—to buy her restaurant. Hollis reveals that Buddy and Mercedes did not take up until some time later. Sam decides to drop the issue, saying it will remain an unsolved mystery. Hollis voices concern that, when the skeleton is revealed to be Wade, people will assume Buddy killed him to take his job, to which Sam states that Buddy's legend can handle it.
Pilar meets Sam at an old drive-in theater where Sam shows her an old photo of Buddy and Mercedes and tells her Eladio died 18 months, rather than "a couple months", before she was born, revealing Buddy is Pilar's father. Both are hurt over the deception but decide that, since she cannot have any more children, they will continue their romantic relationship, despite the knowledge that they are half-siblings.
- Kris Kristofferson as Charlie Wade
- Matthew McConaughey as Buddy Deeds
- Chris Cooper as Sam Deeds
- Elizabeth Peña as Pilar Cruz
- Míriam Colón as Mercedes Cruz
- Clifton James as Hollis Pogue
- Ron Canada as Otis Payne
- Gabriel Casseus as young Otis Payne
- Joe Morton as Delmore Payne
- Eddie Robinson as Chet Payne
- Frances McDormand as Bunny
- Stephen Mendillo as Sgt. Cliff
- LaTanya Richardson as Sgt. Priscilla Worth
- Jesse Borrego as Danny Padilla
- Tony Plana as Ray
- Oni Faida Lampley as Celie
- Eleese Lester as Molly
- Tony Frank as Fenton
- Gordon Tootoosis as Wesley Birdsong
- Beatrice Winde as Minnie Bledsoe
- Chandra Wilson as Athena Johnson
- Richard Reyes as Jorge
The film received highly positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94% based on 47 reviews, with a rating average of 8.59/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Smart and absorbing, Lone Star represents a career high point for writer-director John Sayles -- and '90s independent cinema in general."  Two years after release, Jack Mathews of the Los Angeles Times declared it "critically acclaimed and darn near commercial". 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".
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". "All the film's characters are flesh and blood", Maslin added, pointing particularly to the portrayals by Kristofferson, Canada, James, Morton and Colon. 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". 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".
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".
- 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.
- Academy Awards: Oscar; Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, John Sayles; 1997.
- Bravo Awards: NCLR Bravo Award; Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film, Tony Plana; 1996.
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award; Best Screenplay - Original, John Sayles; 1997.
- Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards: BFCA Award Best Picture; 1997.
- Casting Society of America: Artios; Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama, Avy Kaufman; 1997.
- Golden Globes: Golden Globe; Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, John Sayles; 1997.
- Independent Spirit Awards: Independent Spirit Award; Best Feature, R. Paul Miller and Maggie Renzil; Best Male Lead, Chris Cooper; Best Screenplay, John Sayles; 1997.
- Satellite Awards: Golden Satellite Award; Best Motion Picture - Drama, R. Paul Miller and Maggie Renzi; 1997.
- Writers Guild of America: WGA Award (Screen); Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, John Sayles; 1997.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 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.
- "Lone Star (1996)". The Numbers. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
- "Interviews with Cast and Director of Lone Star (1996)". Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
- Lone Star on IMDb.
- Lone Star at Rotten Tomatoes
- Mathews, Jack (13 March 1998). "Sayles Again Goes His Own Way With Effective 'Guns'". Los Angeles Times. p. F14. Retrieved 2014-08-19.
- Arnold, William (16 September 2004). "John Sayles' timely political lampoon aims squarely at George W. Bush". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2014-08-19.
- Maslin, Janet (21 June 1996). "Sleepy Texas Town With an Epic Story". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-08-19.
- West, Dennis; West, Joan M. (Summer 1996). Cineaste. Vol. 22 no. 3. p. 34. Missing or empty
- Hornaday, Ann (28 June 1996). "'Lone Star' shines brightly". Austin American-Statesman. p. E1.
- "'Lone Star': Stagnant Sayles". The Washington Post. 12 July 1996. p. F6. Retrieved 2014-08-19.
- "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Lone Star (1996 film)|