Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
Lone Star 1995/96
A film written, directed and cut by John Sayles
Sheriff Sam Deeds: Chris Cooper
Mayor Hollis Pogue: Clifton James
Barkeeper (later owner) Otis: Ron Canada
Sheriff Charlie Wade: Kris Kristofferson
Sheriff Buddy Deeds: Matthew McConaughey
Teacher Pilar Cruz: Elizabeth Peņa
Restaurant owner Mercedes Cruz: Miriam Colon
Bunny (Sam Deeds ex-wife): Frances McDormand.
Lone Star takes place in Texas, the American State which, in the first half
of the 19th century, was, during the decade of its independence war against the
Mexican dictator Santa Ana, an independent republic - with the Lone Star
as its symbol in the flag.
In the 1950s, Sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson) was a corrupt and racist
sheriff in Frontera, an appropriately-named small town at the American-Mexican border. Charlie Wade's rule in Rio County was pitiless.
He once cold-bloodedly shot a bus driver in the back because he
transported illegal immigrants over the border. But, according to the official
story told in town, one day, his then deputy sheriff Buddy Deeds (Matthew
McConaughey) stood up against the unbearable rule of Wade and made him leave
Frontera; that's how he became everbody's buddy in town.
Forty years after these events, a skull, a skeleton, a sheriff's
star and, later, a 45-bullet are found in the desert near Frontera. The son of the former
hero Buddy Deeds, Sam (Chris Cooper), is the new sheriff and starts
investigating the case. The old Mayor Hollis Pogue (Clifton James) tells him once more the story
of Sam's father, a local icon, veteran of the Korean War and sheriff for thirty
years. But the son doubts the story. For him, his father was among others the
man who did not allow him to have a relation with a Chicano girl at
While telling the story, the Mayor puts his hand into a
basket to get a tortilla. The scene directly leads into the past with another
hand, the one of Charlie Wade, taking a tortilla out of the same basket -
together with a bribe hidden between the tortillas. The famous scene with Buddy
Deeds standing up against his superior, the corrupt sheriff, follows. In the
leaves the bar, menacing Buddy. Hollis insists: "He [Wade] went missing the
next day along with $10,000 in county funds from the safe. Never heard from him
Sam Deeds listens skeptically to the Mayor's explanations.
In the streets of Frontera, a young and upset man tells an
alternative story about the bright past of Sam's father: In 1963,
"they" dammed up the north branch of Lake Pescadero. A whole town,
Perdido (which means "lost" in Spanish), with Mexicans and Chicanos
living there for over one hundred years, were "forcibly evicted by your
local hero Buddy Deeds, and his department. [...] Who gets Lakefront property
bought for a fraction of the market price? Buddy Deeds, Sheriff of Rio County,
and his chief deputy, Hollis Pogue." And in a bar, an angry African-American barman explains to Sam that his father, Buddy Deeds, would have
intervened between a black woman and a white man sitting at a table, not by
force, just giving "a safety tip". In present-day Frontera, Sam has
still to fight racism. As somebody speaks negatively about the Mexicans, the
sheriff points out to the fact that nineteen out of twenty people in town are
Mexican and, therefore, it is only logical that they dominate the local scene.
Director, screenwriter and cutter John Sayles portrays
real people and different cultures (White, African-American, Mexican, Chicano
and Indian). The film is not without humor. As Sam says: "I'm going to the
other side", his deputy asks: "To the Republicans?" Sam:
"No, to the Mexicans" [in order to investigate what has become a
murder case]. All characters in Lone Star are complex - with the
exception of Charlie Wade, played by a frightening Kris Kristofferson, a bad man
through and through.
Sam is no hero. After a divorce, he came back to Frontera
and was asked to become the new sheriff. The establishment needed his name with
its magic touch (Deeds), to chase the man in office. Because Sam is not actively
in support of a new prison the city does not need - some businessmen just want
to get richer - his deputy Ray is asked to run for sheriff against him. But Sam
has no regrets and no illusions. He did not think this would be a job
for a lifetime anyway.
Sam meets his teenage-love Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth
Peņa). She works as a schoolteacher and has lost her husband. The two slowly
find their way back together again. Pilar's mother Mercedes (Miriam Colon) has made her way up
in Frontera and owns a flourishing restaurant, employing illegal immigrants from
Mexico. She is integrated now and does not want to speak Spanish anymore.
"We are in America" is one of her standard phrases. Only as she has to
help a young woman who crossed the frontier-river near her private estate, she
remembers that one day she came to America the same way. A crime, not committed but
tolerated by her, was at the origin of her restaurant.
Sam learns a lot about the past of Frontera and his
father, who was considered an exemplary husband but who had a mistress for
fifteen years. Everybody knew it, except Sam. He also discovers that Charlie Wade
died from a bullet, but not exactly the way he had thought.
At the end of Lone Star is the sentence by Pilar Cruz: Forget the
Alama! The exclamation is a reference to the year 1836 in which the Mexican
dictator Santa Ana had Alama, a former missionary station transformed into a
fort, stormed after two weeks of siege. Almost two hundred rebels died. Remember the Alamo!
became the slogan of the Texan independence movement. Pilar's words, directed at
Sam, tell him to forget about the past, although there is another dark secret which
could menace the two lover's common future.
Lone Star is a subtle masterpiece by John Sayles
(who also made City of Hope and Passion Fish) about racial,
cultural, familial, sexual and other problems in a small Texan border town. No
Hollywood-story with unlikely heroes, but a film with great characters (many
more than depicted in this article) interpreted by actors who know to play real