John Sayles, darling of the indie film movement, has created this picture, an epic study of racial tension in mythical Frontera, Texas, a border town in the Rio Grande Valley. (The film was actually shot in Eagle Pass, quite a ways upriver from the Valley.) Set against the backdrop of a son investigating his father's involvement in the murder of a sheriff some 40 years earlier, Sayles wanders, Short Cuts-like, through the lives of 15 or so major characters.
The film is full of excellent performances, including Chris Cooper (Sam Deeds, the current sheriff and investigating son), Matthew Mcconaughey (Buddy Deeds, his dad, in flashback), Kris Kristofferson (the evil and long-dead ex-sheriff Charley Wade), Elizabeth Peña (Pilar, Sam's girlfriend), and Frances McDormand (in a cameo as Sam's ex-wife). The problem is that Sayles's script could have used some work, as it meanders through 2 1/2 hours of plot that is mostly irrelevant to the primary story line. One of these side-tracks involves Pilar's Mexican family, their prejudices, how they want to teach Texas History, illegal immigration, and a host of scattered other themes. Another subplot involves the black community, a closing Army base, a family drama between grandfather, father, and son, and how this all fits in with the 40-year old murder (answer: very, very sketchily).
Sayles's biggest problem is that he likes the sound of his writing so much that he lets it go on forever. In fact, he continually prefers to talk about things that have happened than to actually show them happening (thus violating the first rule of screenwriting). It's no wonder that your legs (and mind) are asleep when the movie's over.
Sayles also has a poor understanding of what the Valley is really like, giving it a large black community that simply does not exist there. With Lone Star, Sayles is trying to jam every racial theme he's ever thought of into one movie, but he fails due to this glaring inaccuracy (and interestingly, it's that very subplot which is the poorest).
By the time the engrossing final 15 minutes arrive, we're already too bored to care too much. Sure, there are a few nice twists along the way, and as a director, Sayles's use of flashbacks is well-done and breaks up the monotony of the script. Also, the aforementioned solid acting does a lot to give this otherwise mediocre film some credibility. A real editor (Sayles did that, too) would have saved the picture, though, by trimming off 45 minutes.
Finally, with this serious drama set in remote, rural Texas, Sayles will achieve two things with certainty: 1) That most critics will drool all over him with praise, and 2) that no one will actually pay to see the film. Sorry, John.
Run time: 135 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st June 1996
Box Office Worldwide: $13.3M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Castle Rock Entertainment, Columbia Pictures Corporation, Rio Dulce
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 43 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: John Sayles
Producer: R. Paul Miller, Maggie Renzi
Screenwriter: John Sayles
Starring: Chris Cooper as Sam Deeds, Matthew McConaughey as Buddy Deeds, Elizabeth Peña as Pilar, Kris Kristofferson as Charlie Wade, Joe Morton as Del, Frances McDormand as Bunny, Stephen Mendillo as Cliff, Stephen J. Lang as Mikey, Oni Faida Lampley as Celie, LaTanya Richardson as Priscilla Worth, Leo Burmester as Cody