Lone Star

on June 21, 1996 by Susan Lambert
   John Sayles is the filmmaking equivalent of the modern American folksinger, so there will always be some who don't take much to the atmospheric, coffeehouse/local bar attitude prevalent in his films. He tells his usually harsh tales with a soft, comforting voice turning what would be great short stories into sincerely original films. Truly independent in a world of the pseudo-independent, Sayles' movies are always intriguing and ironic, not to mention, incredibly well-written and oftentimes, frustratingly real.
   With "Lone Star", Sayles tackles a border-town mystery, but manages to pack his tale of murder and small-town intrigue with gentle, humanist tones and barely enough blood to fill Quentin Tarantino's thimble. The ever-somber Sayles keeps his story-telling as dry and methodical as his lead, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper). Lean and hard, Cooper is perfect as the reluctant Texas sheriff investigating a 40 year old murder that may or may not have been committed by his own legendary lawman father, one Sheriff Buddy Deeds (the beautiful Matthew McConaughey). The past unfolds in well-crafted flashbacks that reveal themselves in the shadows of the present, behind a post or across a table. Kris Kristofferson brings a well-heeled menace to his role as racist, bad-boy Sheriff Charley Wade.
   "Lone Star" sports more fascinating characters and intertwined stories than some Robert Altman films and the plot turns and twists like a pinned rattlesnake. The film's freedom rides on the strong shoulders of its performers and they are superb (particularly Elizabeth Pena), despite the fact that the lead characters seem unable or unwilling to engage the audience. No one in a John Sayles movie is ever surprised or particularly angry, to find their life ruined for they have already resigned themselves to such realities.
   Surprisingly fresh and seemingly unconcerned with heightened melodrama, "Lone Star" remains captivating even at well over two hours. Starring Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Pena, Matthew McConaughey and Kris Kristofferson. Written and directed by John Sayles. Produced by Maggie Renzi and Paul Miller. A Sony Pictures Classic release. Drama. Running time: 134 minutes
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