Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996)
After the discovery of a skeleton in an ancient shooting range in a little town in Texas. The sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) embarks on an investigation that will make him revive the past of his father (Matthew McConaughey), also a sheriff of the town and his predecessor (Kris Kristofferson). Also intertwined are Otis (Ron Canada) as the owner of the African-American bar of the town, the colonel of the almost closed military base (Joe Morton) and Sam’s old flame Pilar (Elisabeth Pena) and her mother Mercedes (Miriam Colon).
This investigation in the country of the cowboys also mixes the presence of illegal Mexican refugees, adultery, redemption, and how the past should become a myth just like John Ford did with his huge corpus of Western movies that paved the way of millions of copies without ever being half as great as his. However, John Sayles never tries to do a John Ford film but does one of the best films of the 1990’s with this investigation and talented ensemble cast. His characters have enough mystery to be interesting and not too much to stay human with their fails and faults.
Sayles’ mise en scène and storytelling are subtle and efficient with the characteristic one shots that mixed the past and the present of the story in one long take. It helps the fluidity of the story and shows how the stories are connected. We don’t feel the change of rhythm between the time and it keeps the viewer in the space that the plot is. It is not as stylistic as many films of the 1990’s were and it is most probably why it did not catch on younger audiences. When compared to a Quentin Tarantino, a Robert Rodriguez or even a Coen brothers film, Lone Star seems pale visually because it retains itself from being based on the mise en scène but instead it excels with a superb script and real life characters.
Overall, I would not call it a masterpiece as many have said before, but I think it is a great film that with time might become a classic of its era. It also showcase Chris Cooper’s subtle and quiet range that is outstandingly underrated from the public. But one must remember that it is the entire ensemble cast that makes this movie work so well and that shows how the new America is a melting pot of mixed ancestors.