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No. 8, July 2000
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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 college.
 
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 end, Wade 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 again." 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 people.
 

Get Lone Star on DVD from Directmedia Schweiz, Amazon.de, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.fr.

 
Jack Ryan: John Sayles, Filmmaker. A Critical Study of the Independent Writer-Director; With a Filmography and a Bibliography. McFarland & Company, 1998, 279 p.
 
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 8, July 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.