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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Lone Star (1996)



Reviews and Comments

"No telling yet if there's been a crime, but this country's seen a fair amount of disagreements over the years."

In real life, it's more common to hear about people's shadier side, rather than see it first hand. You meet a guy, he seems pleasant and friendly enough, but then someone else who's known him longer tells you about something less than admirable that he does or says or believes -- but you may never encounter this undesirable aspect of his character at all. That's just what happens, many times over, in John Sayles' film Lone Star, which unwinds a convoluted web of mystery, intrigue, and drama, involving a large cast with highly intertwined pasts. With a couple of exceptions, the characters are all likeable "goodguys" when we see them on-screen, but later somebody else will have a story to tell or a personal trauma to express that casts an unfavorable light.

It is remarkable how skillfully this is done. From the beginning of fiction itself, the lines between the goodguys and the badguys have generally been clearly marked. Conditioned by this convention, Lone Star becomes an awkward film to watch. There are very few characters in Lone Star without some shade of gray in their makeup -- true to life. The character of Otis Payne said it best:

"It's not like there's a line between the good people and the bad people. It's not like you're one or the other."

The backbone of the film is a forty year old murder mystery -- a human skeleton is discovered in an old rifle range -- yet this mystery is treated almost as a mere device to get the son of the prime suspect digging into the town's past, for it's the means rather than the end of his mission that are most important to the film. The characters are many, and there are lots of stories to tell. In fact, the film's scope is a little too large, meandering frequently. A little tightening up would have improved it, but there's something to be said for a languidly paced film that holds one's interest through the majority of its 135 minute length. The cast is universally strong, and there are some astounding plot twists. Not perfect, but an exceptional film.