Warner Bros. // 1996 // 135 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // February 4th, 2000
John Sayles invites you to return to the scene of the crime.
Before you get ready to spin this disc, prepare the popcorn, get yourself something to drink and take the phone off of the hook because you're not going to want to be disturbed while watching Lone Star.
The time is current day...the place is a little border town in Texas...and two men are treasure hunting out on an old military shooting range when they discover human remains with a Masonic ring and a Sheriff's badge laying nearby. The mystery is, of course, who the remains belong to, how the person was murdered, by whom and why...When the local Sheriff, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper -- Great Expectations, October Sky, American Beauty), begins his criminal investigation his first stop is with some of the old-timers of the community to hear the re-telling of how Sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson -- A Star is Born, Blade, Limbo) disappeared one night, along with $10,000, after having a public confrontation with Sam's father, the then Deputy Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey -- Edtv, Amistad, Contact). As the tale goes...Sheriff Wade told Deputy Deeds that collecting the bribe money, from the restaurant they were in, would be part of his monthly duties, but Deeds told Wade that he wouldn't do it and that he was going to turn Wade in to the authorities for taking money from the County Road Project. Wade then told Deeds that he was a dead man and left the restaurant. After that night no one ever saw Sheriff Wade or the $10,000 of the County's money again. Deputy Deeds then became the most beloved town Sheriff of all time -- which is why his son had been asked to run for Sheriff a few years earlier. Buddy Deeds praises are sung by everyone in the town with one exception, his own son Sam. And Sam is determined to get to the bottom of who killed the person found on the ammo range in the hope that he can finally get some proof that his father wasn't the wonderful person everyone thinks he was.
Lone Star was written, directed and edited by John Sayles and is perhaps one of the most perfectly told tales to come down the trail in quite some time. If the plot outlined above was all that the movie was about it would be good, but from the telling of the past in order to solve the mystery of the present we get so much more from this film. In reality we are left with the story of three generations from three different families; one Anglo, one Latino and one African American. All of them live in a town torn apart by racial prejudice and the secrets of the past. We get to see how each generation deals with the situations created by the town's border location as well as seeing how each family deals with its own members across the generations. In short, the message of the story is that everyone is more like each other than they are different, whether their differences are racial or generational. Amazingly however, you don't even realize this until after you're done watching because the murder mystery is one of the most involving stories you'll ever see. With all these characters and all of the flashbacks this could have been the most confusing film ever made, but John Sayles puts it together in an easy to understand, slow moving Texas style that makes everything flow with ease and logic. The Academy Award Nomination that he got for writing this screenplay was well deserved.
The cast in this film is quite enormous with most characters being played by two people -- one younger in the flashbacks and one older in the present day. Everyone does an outstanding job playing their part in this one. Since the story is told as an unfolding mystery the people all act the way that normal people do; that is, normal people put into some situations that they didn't want to find themselves in. We can identify with them and feel for them when they have to make difficult life decisions. The only person we meet in this film that we wouldn't normally meet in real life is the "bribe or bullets" Sheriff Charlie Wade. Kris Kristofferson plays this part with an understated assurance of pure meanness that is downright scary. Of all the villains put on film Charlie Wade is the one I'd least like to meet in real life. With his rattlesnake personality and "smile like the Grim Reaper" he almost makes Darth Vader look warm and cuddly in comparison. Some of the bit part characters are used to comment on the situations that the main characters are dealing with and have some of the best lines in the movie. For example, when Sam Deeds introduces himself to the widow of the owner of the bar as 'Sheriff Deeds' she tells him, "Sheriff Deeds is dead, you're just Sheriff Junior." Repeated watchings of this film will make the underlying humor more enjoyable.
The picture is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio enhanced for 16x9 TVs. On widescreen setups you will find that the picture is "windowboxed" in that there will be unused space on the sides as well as on the top and the bottom of the screen. (Depending on how you have your set calibrated you will notice more or less of this.) I had varying results with the picture quality on widescreen monitors. On my main monitor with a line doubler (using a Toshiba DVD player) I had artifacting in areas of heavy line structure, but when viewed on a widescreen set without a line doubler (and a Panasonic DVD player) the video was gorgeous. (There were a few white specks throughout the presentation however.) It seems this DVD is going to be sensitive to different equipment and give varying results. The sound is presented in Dolby Surround Stereo and since this is a mostly dialogue driven film it seemed adequate. As far as extras go we only get a Theatrical Trailer (widescreen enhanced as well), but that is what you'd expect as this is one of Warner's semi-budget titles.
If you're not in the mood to watch something that takes concentration then you might want to pass on this one. However, given the wide variety of issues examined in this film, most everyone will find something that they will be able to identify with.
Given the pricing structure on this from Warner and the re-watchability of this film most people will want to purchase, but if you're hesitating then at least give this one a rental.
The film is totally acquitted, but Warner needs to go back and check out their DVD production process and figure out what's making this one (and some others recently) act finicky on certain home theater setups.
Review content copyright © 2000 Margo Reasner; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer