John Sayles is a filmmaker who may be unfamiliar to the mainstream of cinema-going audiences of today’s world and yet most deservedly requires much attentive admiration. Perhaps the reason for his anonymity is less obvious when one is to review his body of work over the past four decades but the sad truth of this unknown writer/director perhaps can be overlooked when one is to watch just one single feature in his oeuvre. And yet the true irony of this forgotten storyteller lies in how memorable his work can leave with the audience member. An irony he may embrace hesitantly or not, I cannot say but the fact of the matter is that his films are good. Not just good during the experience of viewing, but good because they are hauntingly memorable; and “Lone Star” is no such exception to this rule!
His 1996 feature, starring Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey to name but a few, is tale of redemption, regret, love, denial, legacy and change. All summed up in a highly original and often uniquely disturbing thriller. Lone Star follows the story of Sheriff Sam Deeds whose jurisdiction lies over Rio County, a small Texan town only a handful of miles form the Mexican border. His father, Buddy Deeds (McConaughey) was known as a legendary sheriff in his day, leaving Sam with the highly praised legacy of a man that he often resented as a child. As the mysterious discovery of a dead body begins to make the inhabitants of Rio County nervous Sam begins to undergo a personal quest to discover the truth to what happened one night in a small bar between his father and the monstrous Sheriff Charlie Wade (Kristofferson), who was never to be seen again.
Star‘s power in memory partly comes from the outstanding performances of its cast of quirky but more importantly human characters. Cooper’s portrayal of a cynical and almost obsolete law enforcer is both touching and empathizing. The relationship between himself and his father is poetically described by Cooper’s understated delivery of Sayles’ screenplay. Moments shared between himself and childhood sweetheart Pilar (played by Elizabeth Pena) are directed wonderfully, inviting the viewer to become the third member to Sam and Pilar’s troubled love affair. Star‘s slew of supporting characters all feel genuine and of their time, helping to make the world of Rio County feel brutally honest in its depiction. The almost comical existence that the members of the community share in such a barren and desolate wasteland becomes increasingly welcoming as Sam travels to all corners of the land, inquiring about the history of his father and the then-Sheriff Charlie Wade. What’s more is how convincingly natural Cooper seems to be in the skin of this depressed and lonely individual, leaving many moments for the audience to gaze at the subtle facial expressions Cooper carries with him throughout with touching curiosity.
The second key ingredient in Sayle’s memorable odyssey is through Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography. Many scenes in the film link to flashbacks of the county from Sam’s fathers perspective, where we witness many of the horror’s Charlie Wade commits upon innocent citizens. Dryburgh’s camera movements, with Sayles’ own editing skills, make the transition from one time to another perfectly seamless. The narrative of such an undertaking could have been executed with a simple fade out or jump-cut, but for Sayles he allows the camera and sets to blur into one, with actors portraying younger versions of their characters walking into frame just as the elder actor leaves it. It is this technique that makes Lone Star a film worth watching time and time again. Its plot is engaging and emotional with each of its cast of characters distinct and unformulaic. Sam’s personal struggle to come to terms with his past “deeds” becomes a gateway for the viewer to sympathize with, but most importantly of all is how you won’t forget how Sam feels once you do long after joining with him in his search to redeem his legacy!