Lone Star (1996)


 Eee, um... you get caught that way though...
Eee, um... you get caught that way though...

Genre: Mystery Drama

Starring: Chris Cooper (American Beauty • Syriana), Kris Kristofferson (Pat Garrett & Billy the KidBlade)

Directed By: John Sayles (MatewanCity of Hope)

Overview: When a skull and a tin star are found in the desert, the sheriff investigates what may have been the old corrupt sheriff’s murder 40 years ago. 

Lone Star is one of those ‘I-know-little-about-it’ movies that I’ve looked forward to opening like a surprise for a long time. All I knew about it was that it was the image opposite Trainspotting in my 2005 edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. It shows a slightly askew screenshot of Matthew McConaughey looking rather stern and focussed in his big white cowboy hat and tin star. He sits looking up at an equally stern and focussed Kris Kristofferson whose thumb is firmly hooked into his bullet belt. Lone Star’s location in the 1001 tome put it in one of the folds where my book naturally opened to, so I’ve been frequently reminded to get around to Lone Star

Don't get me wrong, he does a fine job!
Don't get me wrong, he does a fine job!

Some metal-detecting treasure hunters are digging around the desert in Rio County, Texas. When they uncover a skull, a masonic ring and a lawman’s badge, sheriff Sam Deeds (the ever-stoic Chris Cooper) begins looking into his town’s past. Sam is the son of the righteous Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), the sheriff who, 40 years ago, publicly confronted the dirty sheriff Charlie Wade (a beautifully angry Kris Kristofferson) about his dirty dealings. Naturally, Sam suspects the body is of Charlie, who was presumed to have just up and left one night all those years ago.

From here you would expect Lone Star to take a turn for the procedural – a high budget, character background-rich “CSI: Rio County”, but it strays far from the investigative policing that films and TV shows have shown us a hundred times. Rather than partners jumping from hunches to conclusions, this tale is told through the stories of the interconnected lives the old skull is linked to… or rather, it felt like there was this gaping void of ‘interesting’ that I was missing. I’m sure that unique not-so-heavy-on-the-how approach is why Lone Star made it to the 1001 book, but try as I might, I just couldn't get into it.

Another awesome character we don't see enough of
Another awesome character we don't see enough of

Full of character-building tangents and distractions, Lone Star is dialogue-dense but somehow it’s just not story-rich. Call it direction, casting, script, whatever, but in more than one scene I was pulled out by dialogue and acting that made me realize these were players on a set. It happened too frequently that chunks felt forced or even clichéd, and that, combined with two hours and nine minutes that somehow still felt rushed, well that doesn’t leave much hope for an ending satisfying enough to make up for the awkward. The ending was great, but the hole was already dug too deep. I just wasn’t liking where I was.  

The main reason I was disappointed in Lone Star is because it left this emptiness – nay, this vacuum. I say vacuum because not only was something missing, but there was something there that got sucked out and instead left this tension, an ever-unfulfilled expectation that it would return. Lone Star should have focussed on Matthew McConaughey’s Buddy Deeds, a character introduced early on and then ignored in favour of turning him into a once-upon-a-time part of the modern mystery. His was the character I wanted to follow, his was the most interesting story and his was the element that was so lacking in Lone Star. I think he had all of six lines. Lone Star missed the mark, showing us instead the character of the son who was in Buddy Deeds’s shadow, the man who couldn’t hold a candle to his father, and a character who couldn’t hold a candle to the story I wanted to watch. 

Oh look, nowhere to be found - there's the real mystery.
Oh look, nowhere to be found - there's the real mystery.

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 6 Mood: 5

Overall Rating: 64% (Doesn't Shine So Brightly)

If nothing else, watching Lone Star is like going back in time and seeing Hollywood actor from the 90s all in one movie – a lot of nostalgia factor there.

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Squish....Buddy....You're killing me!

I absolutely love Lone Star. Your points about Buddy Deeds are correct in one regard - His story could have been a terrific movie on it's own, but I think I know why he is given so little screen time. Buddy exists in the minds of the townspeople as a living legend. It's not really important what he was like - What's really important to the story is what people PERCEIVED him to be like. There's one line early on where one of the town's old-timers says something along the lines of "He ain't the man his old man was" in referring  to Sam. No matter what, Sam will never measure up, and he knows it. I loved Sam's little speech about his Dad at the beginning, where he gives us a pretty good glimpse into his childhood with a living legend - And it ain't pretty. 

Remember when Sam visits the mayor while he is fishing, and the mayor makes a remark like "A lot of trouble to go to just to catch a little fish, isn't it?" The message is clear - Don't spoil Buddy Deeds for the people of this town. In that regard, this film reminds me a bit of another of my all-timers, John Fords "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", another film about people who would rather have an illusion than the truth.

Anyways, I'm glad you saw this one, and I hope you give it another chance somewhere down the road.

BTW...I just finished re-reading Sayles' book "Thinking In Pictures", which is about the making of "Matewan". it's a great primer on how a movie is put together, and I recommend it heartily.

Ummmm  A living legend.....Who is dead.  I must have written that after my 4th glass of wine.

LMFAO. No, no I liked it fine! I actually thought it MORE poignant like that.

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