Lone Star

Lone Star

1996, R, 134 min. Directed by John Sayles. Starring Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Peña, Joe Morton, Miriam Colon, Clifton James, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Canada, Matthew McConaughey, Frances McDormand, Eddie Robinson.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., June 28, 1996

A border is a curious place. It exists to separate things – countries, peoples, cultures – to keep what's on one side from what's on the other. But as anyone who's been to a border knows, it doesn't really keep much apart. The same wind blows on both sides. It crosses and crosses back again, and so do many things: language, families, music, customs. A border is there and not there, too; so what does it mean? In his latest film, writer/director Sayles heads to the Rio Grande to explore the question and just generally squeeze all the metaphorical juice he can out of the idea of borders. He creates a fictitious Texas border town called Frontera and fills it with divisions: U.S./Mexico, military/civilian, corruption/honesty, black/white, parent/child, legend/truth …. In every case, he finds two sides at odds, with what seems a clear line separating them. But instead of just drawing out the dramatic tension of opposing forces, Sayles takes pains to show that these “borders” are porous, too. Just because we say they exist doesn't mean things won't cross them and change the constitution of the other side. Sayles hits this idea in each of the half-dozen narrative streams rolling through the film -- it's one of his most sprawling efforts to date -- but it's clearest in his central story line, which explores the border between past and present, what it separates and what it can't. Sam Deeds (Cooper), the current sheriff of Frontera, lives in the shadow of his father, a sheriff universally revered in their town. When new evidence suggests his dad may have been involved in the murder of his brutal predecessor, Sam must begin an investigation and open a past he's tried to leave behind. But history cannot be set apart; it lives in us and old feelings continue to flow in it, as Sam discovers when he finds himself rekindling a romance with his high school sweetheart (Peña). Sayles makes time a fluid thing, segueing from present scenes to past scenes with smooth pans of the camera, across a room, across a landscape. It's a simple device, but it's so ideally suited to what Sayles is saying about time and relationships and lives, that there is a seamlessness to them that can't be marked off by artificial lines or edits. It also speaks to Sayles' style as a storyteller, to his sense of place, culture, character, and experience being woven seamlessly into a story. Here, as in all his work, what happens is driven by people, and the music they hear, the food they eat, the land they walk through is inescapably tied to it. The range of characters here is daringly broad, but Sayles is able to touch on the humanity of each (with considerable help from a gifted and eminently watchable cast), and the details of the region – the heat, the beautiful but often unforgiving landscape, and especially the pride of the residents – are vivid and true. Sayles' panorama of the border reveals that its truths lie not so much in what it keeps apart but what it brings together.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Lone Star
'Lone Star' Needs Your Love, and Is Not Afraid to Beg for It
'Lone Star' Needs Your Love, and Is Not Afraid to Beg for It
Show creator Kyle Killen writes an open letter on his blog

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 23, 2010

More John Sayles
Sayles Talk
Sayles Talk
More on the making of 'Go for Sisters' from John Sayles

Robert Faires, Dec. 7, 2013

SXSW: Pushing the Envelope With People of Letters
SXSW: Pushing the Envelope With People of Letters
The Australian literary event revives two dying arts

Richard Whittaker, March 13, 2013

More John Sayles Films
Go for Sisters
John Sayles' new film, which stars Edward James Olmos and LisaGay Hamilton, is the indie film icon's best work in years.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Dec. 6, 2013

Honeydripper
John Sayles’ new drama is about life in a destitute African-American cotton-farming town in Jim Crow-era Alabama and the music that gave the region its mythology.

Josh Rosenblatt, Feb. 1, 2008

More by Robert Faires
Draylen Mason Is Still Being Remembered, and How Matters
Draylen Mason Is Still Being Remembered, and How Matters
A year after his death, we should do as Draylen did

March 22, 2019

Dance Repertory Theatre's <i>Fortitude</i>
Dance Repertory Theatre's Fortitude
In this spring concert, a profound and moving tribute to a missing member of the Theatre & Dance Department community

March 22, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Lone Star, John Sayles, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Peña, Joe Morton, Miriam Colon, Clifton James, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Canada, Matthew McConaughey, Frances McDormand, Eddie Robinson

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle