In one of the sporadic examples of Chris Cooper in the lead role, John Sayles embroiders a tapestry of the imperialistic town of Frontera, Texas, in which the Mexicans outnumber Caucasians and yet still travail under them in subservient serfdom. At a PTA meeting, the history behind the Mexican Independence origins circa the 1860’s are vehemently debated as redacting the truth if the textbooks are guidelines and not veracious absolution. The proposition of a new jail is more about fear-mongering political gamesmanship than garrisoning the neighborhood. At times, Sayles is closer to a civic pundit than a filmmaker and yet, Lone Star is a punctilious, torrid, neo-western medley of Sayles’ novelistic proclivities.
Matthew McConaughey’s (in a relatively infinitesimal role) Buddy Deeds is a stoic folk hero according to the natives. In a smoothly juxtaposed flashback, Buddy’s reputation is ennobled when he was apparently mutinous to the corrupt, racist sheriff Charlie Wade (an eminently chimerical Kris Kristofferson who tyrannizes the minorities like a bigoted despot) as if he were a white-hat Wyatt Earp running the black-hat miscreant out of town. However, Sayles demarcates the line between myth and fact as Sam Deeds (Cooper) is clearly tentative with plaudits for his father. In fact, most of the anecdotal evidence stigmatizes Wade as an unrepentant villain but Sayles conjectures that perspectives are usually subjective.
The forensic investigation behind the skeleton in the desert is the nucleus of the picture while it ramifies into other scarified wounds in Rio County. For instance, the army installation nearby is a subplot that is basically flavoring atop the hornblende narrative. Likewise, Sam’s rekindled tryst with teacher Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Pena) enriches the ample flow. Each ostensible blind alley inextricably gnarls back into the Southern-fricasseed spine.
All the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-esque side characters are multidimensional and could’ve gibbeted chapters within Sayles’ literary approach. The simmering resentment between Otis Payne (Ron Canada) and his astringent son Delmore (Joe Morton) is a supernova sparring session. While it isn’t lockstep with the nuts-and-bolts procedural, it garlands the slice-of-life and the Russell Banks theme of dysfunctional father-son relationships.
The murder mystery is Cormac McCarthy frontier-justice wrapping paper for a Robert Altman ensemble piece. A gift that Sayles replenishes for Cooper is manifold scenes in which Cooper is pensively rhapsodizing backwards to the past and the internalized nostalgia is etched across his face. In another stroke of eleemosynary charity for someone who is primarily typecast as the ulcerated malcontent, Cooper and Pena writhe passionately in a tastefully sultry sex scene.
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