Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996)

What's it about? Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) is the sheriff of a town on the Texan-Mexican border. When a skeleton is found in the desert outside town, Sam suspects it may be that of Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson), a former sheriff who mysteriously disappeared decades earlier. He also suspects his late father (Matthew McConaughey), who is revered as a local legend, may have had something to do with it. His investigations turn up surprising revelations about both the past and present.

Is it any good? Very good indeed, although it's probably a film to admire rather than love. Sayles, who wrote, edited and directed, deserves great credit for using the central murder mystery as a platform upon which to layer astute observations on the political, social, familial and racial forces that have shaped this border environment. Thus, we get a rich sense of heritage and history as the stories of several characters fit into the tale, as well as recurring themes of division, in terms of geography, family and society.  We see Sam living in the shadow of his father's hero-status, a status which is at odds with his own view of the man, and we watch him attempt to rekindle a romanace with his childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile, we see her mother secretly helping Mexicans to illegally cross the border, which in turn reminds her of her own arrival in the US decades earlier. An army colonel returns to town and meets his estranged father, whilst elsewhere the mayor juggles ethnic tensions in the town. Tying all these characters together are the wonderfully smooth flashbacks which gradually reveal what really happened to the body in the desert. All these stories are interweaved with masterful economy and superbly played by the ensemble cast. The end result is a terrific modern Western which may move slowly, but ultimately impresses with its intelligence, depth and complexity.

Anything else I should know? Take a look at the clip below as the action shifts from present day to 40 years earlier, all apparently filmed in one take. Slick, eh? No special effects, just some lovely mis-direction. Or direction, I suppose.

What does the Fonz think? Tex-Mex food for thought.

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