Today: April 19, 2024

Lone Star – Criterion Collection

Rarely in cinema do you come across a filmmaker as versatile as Lone Star writer-director John Sayles. Here is a man who cut his Hollywood teeth working for Roger Corman, got early breaks writing genre scripts for films such as Piranha and The Howling but when it comes to making his own films offers something nuanced, cerebral and deeply rich in themes. For many, Lone Star is the quintessential hidden gem, a film that often goes under the radar but one that, once seen, is near impossible to forget. It is with huge delight therefore, that the Criterion Collection have blessed us with an all-singing, all-dancing 4K release.

When a skeleton is unearthed in a Rio County town, local sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) suspects it is that of missing deputy Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson). With local politics and mayor Holis (Clifton James) threatening to get in his way, Sam sets about trying to solve the murder with the town’s memory and love of his late father, and former sheriff, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey) looming large. Meanwhile, bar owner Otis (Ron Canada) tries to reconnect with his son Del (Joe Morton) while looking back on the war against minorities that Wade waged on him and the Mexican community.

Lone Star is an incredible essay on the ideas of heritage and the shadows it casts over us, for better or worse. Sayles’ majestic transitions from the past to the present are a powerful reminder of how, while things might look the same, they also never change. There is a wonderful sense of Western meets film noir at play. Sayles shoots the whole film through a glorious lens, taking in the vibrant, richly textured landscape of Texas and Mexico. The way colours pop in Mexico compared to the washed-out tones of Texas are just one way in which Sayles is visually communicating his ideas.

This is essentially a whodunit mystery but it’s less about unraveling the murder and more about dissecting who these fascinating characters are. There are moments where the dialogue is so loaded, a gun with the safety on, before finally going off in ways you never predict.

The ideas of lineage and, in a very Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be The Verse’ – “They fuck you up your mum and dad”, this is a film that hinges on identity. It’s not just what you do, it’s what you stand for that defines who you are. Lone Star is a film that demands your attention, almost every scene reveals a truth that acts as a breadcrumb trail to the truth. This is typified by McConaughey’s Buddy, a character seen in only a handful of scenes but whose imposing figure looms large like a mythical being in this dust bowl town.

As if watching the film isn’t a delight in itself in unpicking the world Sayles has created, the Criterion Collection release has some wonderful extras that delve even deeper. Not least of all an interview with Sayles himself who throws out ideas that will demand repeat viewing of the film with them in mind. Such wonderfully quotable musings as; “Race is an illusion but culture is so real”. Small snippets like this act as a form of cheat-sheet to the endless layers that Lone Star is operating under. It’s never just one thing, every scene, every beat is doing the heavy lifting of plot and about three or four different themes or ideologies. It’s the kind of screenwriting and filmmaking you could spend decades trying to replicate and never come close to touching the sheer literary genius Sayles has conjured.

An incredibly rich, textured and riveting mystery, Lone Star is essentially viewing.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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