Lone Star is a richly textured and thoroughly engrossing drama that ranks with indie filmmaker John Sayles’ finest work. Bountifully rich in incident and characterization, Lone Star recalls the vast canvas of Sayles’ City of Hope. This time the maverick writer-director focuses on a small Texas border town where the sins of fathers continue to haunt sons.
Chris Cooper is first among equals in a strong ensemble cast as Sam Deeds, the taciturn but easygoing sheriff of Frontera. The locals still swap stories about the fateful night 40 years ago when his father, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), ran his corrupt predecessor, Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson), out of town.
When skeletal remains are uncovered at a long-abandoned Army rifle range near the town, Sam is called in to investigate. Sure enough, the remains are identified as those of Charlie Wade. Sam suspects his father killed the villain, and begins to question Buddy’s friends and associates. The more he digs into his father’s past, the more he learns about himself.
Repeatedly, Sayles emphasizes his central theme: history is merely a collection of highly subjective appraisals. In several scenes, Sayles gracefully glides his camera from a flashback to a contemporary scene, allowing past and present to exist simultaneously in the same tracking shot. Even relatively minor subplots ring true with their persuasive detail.
Kristofferson makes the most of his relatively few scenes, so that his malignant presence hovers over the action even when he’s nowhere to be seen. Elizabeth Pena reveals a quiet strength and sad-eyed sensuality in her multifaceted role as wife, mother and lover.
1996: Nominations: Best Original Screenplay