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Lone Star

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Review by Dragan Antulov
2½ stars out of 4

More often than not, the author of this review used to hear about certain movie enjoying rave reviews only to be disappointed when the movie didn't meet his personal expectations. In many cases this disappointment was hard to explain - movies were good, but for some reason not good enough to be appreciated with much enthusiasm. LONE STAR, 1996 drama written and directed by John Sayles, is one of such examples.

The plot is set in Frontera, small Texan town near Mexican border. When two treasure hunters finds a human skeleton, sheriff's badge and Masonic ring in the desert. Sheriff Sam Deeds (played by Chris Cooper) begins investigation and thinks that he knows who the dead man and his killer would be. Forty years ago Frontera was ruled by evil, corrupt, bigoted, sadistic and murderous Sheriff Charlie Wade (played by Kriss Kristorfersson). Wade one night had public altercation with his deputy and Sam's father Buddy Deeds (played by Matthew McConaughey) only to mysteriously disappear. After that Buddy took the position of sheriff and became the most beloved public official in history of town. Sam owes his job to his father's name, but his own view of father is much different from other people's. Sam is determined to prove that his father killed Wade, but before he is able to do it, in his life re-enters Pilar Cruz (played by Elizabeth Pena), beautiful Mexican American with whom he had teenage romance, mercilessly crushed by his tyrannical father.

John Sayles' script for LONE STAR is based on a very good idea to use 40-year old murder mystery as an excuse to explore inter-racial relations in present-day America and the way those relations are shaped by the past. Small Texan border town was supposed to be good setting for that, because it symbolises the demographic and cultural shifts - most notably increasing number of Hispanic Americans and the way their presence slowly undermine the old order based on WASP domination. Sayles uses large set of characters, each of them representing different ethnic, social groups or generations - the technique he had used in CITY OF HOPE with great success. He also uses many talented actors, including his old associates Chris Cooper and Joe Morton. The acting in the film is wonderful, and Sayles as a director shows great ability to seamlessly shift the plot not only from one story to another, but also from one time period to another.

All that craftsmanship, on the other hand, can't compensate for the main flow of LONE STAR. Sayles gets so focused on his task of giving the most complete picture of Frontera that the economy of the film suffers. Despite being well-acted, some of the episodes are unnecessary, and some, like the one including Frances McDormand as Sam's football-obsessed wife, border on grotesque. The ending, with its soap opera revelation, also leaves much to be desired. LONE STAR deserved much bigger critical rating than its title would indicate, but most of the hype was not fully deserved.

Copyright 2003 Dragan Antulov

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