film Lone Star discussing various aspects of the movie.
Lone Star" is John Sayles' best movie yet, a richly textured, multi-racial, multi-generational examination of a Texas town. The writer/director Sayles brilliantly combines drama, romance, mystery, and social observation into a one third love story with a twisted one-third-murder mystery. Exploring the lives of half a dozen people in a Texas border town (i.e. border) Sayles ties them all together in his script with discovery of a skeleton in the desert that brings the skeleton out if every closet in the sleepy little berg. Two off-duty sergeants from an Army post near the town of Frontera find skeleton remains and a rusty Sheriff's badge. The current sheriff of Frontera Sam Deeds, son of late legendary lawman Buddy Deeds, begins an investigation. Sam quickly learns that the remains are those of the corrupt sheriff Charley Wade, his father reputed to have run out of town. Sam's relationship with his father was hostile and he went out of Frontera and came back only after his father's death. Now that the city council was planning to name the new courthouse after Buddy Deeds, Sam's old feelings about his father resurface. In the border town that bridge the Rio Grande, against a tapestry of historical, familial and individual passions, promises and deceptions, "Lone Star" unfolds.
Several other stories are in parallel with Sam's investigation; we witness the multi-racial stories of; Big Otis an African-American bartender who may be a key witness to the crime. Oiar, a Latino single mother who was Deed's first love; and Mercedes who runs the Mexican restaurant where the first fatal step may have been taken toward the murder. Boundaries and lines perhaps constitute the major theme of the movie; Sayles creates a very complex, diverse society to explore the dynamics among the people who inhabit a multicultural community and the problems that arise when the distinguishing lines of sociopolitical groups or individuals fail to coincide. Sayles uses the investigation of a thirty-year-old murder to explore many themes and issues of social structure in the Texas town, which is at the Mexican border and so the story invariably, touches the issues to borderlines, the different ethnic issues, the setting of limits and containing. Sayles uses the border both metaphorically and physically to convey many of the social problems.
Though the script rich, the story is unsurpassed, the movie does not concentrate on a single issue, which is the murder case and drifts around many different themes and concepts. The notable flaw aside from being not entirely unpredictable, is that Sayles stays a one of the many sub-plots for up to 10 minutes at a time, leading to wonder when he'll get back to the murder case. Because he takes too many themes and plots at a time, Sayles is unable to explore any one of them with deep insight. Sayles is not a bad filmmaker; this film is among the best films of the nineties and the best independent effort ever made in the United States.
One of America's best-known independent moviemaker, Sayles work deals primarily with personal and political relationships. According to Sayles he is not interested in cinematic art and has developed a distinctive personal style, utilizing ensemble acting as well as his own performance skills. Sayles has directed a very good movie when one considers that it deals with too many sub-plots. He smartly blends drama, romance, mystery and social observation into brilliant, if slightly overlong whole. The movie and the plot could have easily been degenerated into a routine melodrama, but Sayles keeps it on a consistently high level. Though Lone Star is not Sayles best work, he is much more committed and his talents can be seen in "City of Hope" and "Passion Fish." Sayles from his initial period has never made a bad movie and his record is pretty impressive considering that he has ten movies to his credit all on different subjects. From his early work, which includes "Return of the Secaucus Seven," "Baby its you" and "Matewan," Sayles has eschewed Hollywood-influenced scripts with cliched plots. In the Lone Star, as is usually is the case of Sayles movies, a solid performance complements an intelligent script. Chris Cooper, who was in "Matewan" and "City of Hope," gives a subdued performance as Sam, and it's low key acting that allows one of the movie's most difficult scenes (dealing with a delicate and controversial subject) to work. Mixing toughness and vulnerability, Elizabeth Pena does very well to her character. Kris Kristofferson despite limited screen time, makes an effective villain, others like Joe Morton, Ron Canada, and Frances McDormand, provide with solid performance.
At the heart of the movie is the murder story, and while Sayles who is an intelligent and engaging storyteller, spins and crisscrosses interlocking stories and personal histories in a resourceful manner. History looms large in the movie and the search for historical truth in Frontera propels the master plot and shapes the subplot, as characters from the middle and younger generations of three ethnic communities uncover and confront the surprising truth about their elders' past. Sayles uses the past events to in his description of the present and as the story reveals we see many interlinked plots that join together to present a whole. Sayles visually reinforces the weight of history and the past in Frontera with seamless chronological transitions smoothly effected by means of panning or rather camera movement during uninterrupted takes.
The movie basically begins in the 1990's, when Wade's skeleton remains, his sheriff's badge and Masonic ring are found near an Army base. At critical movements in the narrative however, camera movement leads the audience into the 1950's, when the unsolved disappearance and murder of Charlie Wade occurred; or into 1970's when Pilar and Sam were teenagers in love and unaware of her lineage. This back and forth of the different era is not confusing to the audience and I think this is one of the great achievement and skill of Sayles. He never lets the audience hanging in between, the past events and the present situation is shown with smooth consistency progressing towards the revealing of more events without any break or disconnection.
The cinematography of Stuart Dryburg is brilliant it not only compliments the story but adds a rich attachment that audience can feel by the work of his camera. Dryburg has been cinematographer for the fine short film "Kitchen Sink" and the esteemed Jane Champion productions, "An Angel at My Table" and "The Piano." Dryburg garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for "The Piano," a film which well utilized the talents evinced in his other efforts, attaining intimacy, densely metaphoric frames and provocatively accen. So many scenes are special in the movie, but two of the scenes are remarkable as they add extra bit of photography skills. One is the dancing scene and the other is abandoned drive-in theater where Sam and Pilar used to make out. Dryburg adds realism in the drama, with the bar scene and the representation of Texas, the image of the state, is realistically presented by Sayles and brilliantly cinematized by Dryburg. It can be said that border and lines make up the very core of this complex, diverse society that Sayles creates. The international border between Texas and Mexico offers an appropriate setting for exploring the dynamics among peoples who inhabit a multicultural community and the problems that arise when the distinguish lines of sociopolitical groups or individuals fail to coincide.
The Rio Grande, which divides Texan Frontera from its Mexican counterpart, Ciudad Leon, affords the filmmaker a natural entry into his exploration. The river is the symbol of geographical delineation of national territories, and also, because this is Mexico and not Canada, serves peoples of mostly dissimilar ethnic origins and economic opportunities. Its presence and depiction in the movie quickly raises the true to life problems of illegal immigration that currently shapes so much of the U.S. attitude towards its borders.
This however contributes to only one facet to the film's intricate examination of borderlines. Sayles presentation of interaction among the people is also worth mentioning here, the interaction among many groups are very much matters of staking out and occupying of, setting limits and containing.
One Mexican character in the movie very smartly illustrates such practices; he gives a little bottle object lesson about lines and power by inviting Sheriff Sam to step over a line drawn in the dirt with coke. Now Sayles uses metaphors and examples like these to illustrate the historical events, this action recalls William Travis legendary challenge to his troops at the Battle of the Alamo, which Anglo-Texans have historically regarded as emblematic of their heroism. The update gesture as portrayed by Sayles through a Mexican on Mexican soil suing a symbol of American economic and cultural might ironically lampoons pretensions and provides a pointed reminder that gringo laws prevail only on the U.S. side of the line.