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Lone Star Movie Review

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John Sayles is perhaps the most thoughtful and individualistic of today's independent filmmakers. He could easily cross over to make a mass audience action flick, but he never has and very likely never will, knock wood. His 1996 project, Lone Star, is an ambitious movie about a lot of different stuff, but the dots aren't always connected. The script has a first-draft feel that suggests those dots could easily have been connected with a few more revisions. My feeling is that the actors were ready when the script wasn't, and Sayles figured that he could compensate for the uneven screenplay with careful direction, which just kills me when I think about other meticulously crafted Sayles classics like City of Hope and Passion Fish. The fact that a full-page director's statement PLUS a diagram (to explain the 10 major characters) were actually included in the press kit says a lot. The fact that we have to watch the whole dang 137-minute movie to discover something that's been collecting dust in the sheriff's ex-wife's garage for-like-ever says even more. Considering its denouement, Lone Star might be a more compelling yarn if it were a comedy or a satire instead of a star-crossed romance grafted onto a murder mystery. Chris Cooper does a nice, understated job as Sheriff Sam Deeds, and Elizabeth Pena is a strong presence as Pilar, his lost love, but they're playing with a sucker deck in a no-nonsense style; both are way too smart for us to believe that THEY believe their material. Kris Kristofferson is mean Sheriff Charley Wade from the 1950s and Matthew McConaughey plays Buddy Deeds, his enigmatic replacement. Both are seen in sketchy flashbacks, remembered by marginal older characters who are then played by younger actors who don't exactly look or sound like them. (Who would, after 40 years? It really does get awfully confusing.) When we find out who killed Wade, does it matter? When we see the generational ripples created by his slaying, do they matter? And then Sayles comes up with a weird ending that only a daft critter from another planet would find acceptable; what can we say except, “Did they run out of blue pencils on location?” and “Weren't there any B.S. detectors on the payroll?” Sayles’ idea, to say something about how history affects the present, isn't terrible, but how he says it in Lone Star is sort of a mess. You may wind up talking to yourself after watching Lone Star: "WHY in tarnation did he wrap it up like that? Was he bitten by a rattlesnake or what?” Who knows? Perhaps because Sayles is practically worshipped by his admirers, his Lone Star screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, which says more about the state of the art in 1996 than it does about the best efforts of this always intriguing artist.

1995 (R) 137m/C Chris Cooper, Matthew McConaughey, Kris Kristofferson, Elizabeth Pena, Joe Morton, Ron Canada, Clifton James, Miriam Colon, Frances McDormand; D: John Sayles; W: John Sayles; C: Stuart Dryburgh; M: Mason Daring. Independent Spirit Awards ‘97: Best Supporting Actress (Pena); Nominations: Academy Awards ‘96: Best Writing; British Academy Awards ‘96: Best Original Screenplay; Golden Globe Awards ‘97: Best Screenplay; Independent Spirit Awards ‘97: Best Actor (Cooper), Best Film, Best Screenplay; Writers Guild of America ‘96: Best Original Screenplay. VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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