Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lone Star: Grade B

Lone Star (1996)

Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Peña, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey, Ron Canada; Writer-Director John Sayles.

It’s not a western, although it is set in a small Texas border town and the major players wear cowboy hats and guns strapped to their hip. Deeds (Cooper) is the town’s sheriff, the third in a line of bigger-than-life figures to hold that office. His father was a legendary sheriff in the 1950's who succeeded the evil Charlie Wade (Kristofferson), a corrupt racist who stole thousands from the town pension fund and absconded without a trace. But when a skeleton with a sheriff’s star is dug up in the desert, Deeds wonders who it was. As he unravels the mystery, he learns more about who his father was, and who he is. There are several compelling subplots that run parallel to that main theme. I saw the surprise ending coming, but even so, it was interesting and reasonable.

About the only thing wrong with this movie is its 2:15 length, which is due to a slow pace and perhaps too many subplots. Sayles’ writing and directing make the characters rounded and believable, except Kristofferson’s. That character, who shoots Mexicans and blacks on sight if they do not pay extortion, is over the top. He stands as an unrealistic personification of evil that the other characters can work against. However, sets and cinematography are perfect. Costumes are excellent. But the characterizations are the best part.

Cooper’s performance in particular creates a genuine character, with spot on accent and speech timing, but he was a bit too taciturn, too remote to be fully engaging. I like a little more personality in my brooding sheriffs. Tommy Lee Jones captured the character in Electric Mist (2009), which may have been an attempt at a remake, although it was a terrible movie. It’s not so easy to imitate John Sayles. His artistry makes this film a completely engrossing experience.

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