I had no idea what Lone Star was about before watching it. I didn’t know who was in it, who made it or even what genre at fell into. I assumed it was a Western. Even after the opening scene, when a skeleton is found in a shallow grave in present day 1996, I still expected it to flash back a century or so, instead, the majority of Lone Star sticks to the mid 90s modern day, with the odd flash back to the 50s.
Two army officers, inspecting a disused rifle range, stumble across a skeleton in a shallow grave. First on the scene is Sherriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), son of the small Texas town’s legendary former Sherriff, Buddy Deeds. In a flash back, we see how Buddy (Matthew McConaughey) made name for himself by running the last corrupt Sherriff (Kris Kristofferson) out of town in the 50s. The same former corrupt Sherriff who is now, more than likely, the current skeletal remains from the rifle range.
As Sam investigates the not so mysterious identity of the remains, Lone Star tells the story of this small border town, built on favours, secrets, back room deals and an oft bragged about code of honour and unspoken rules. Parallel to Sam’s story, is that of Del, a recently returned Colonel, assigned to running the nearby army base in its last days before closure. Returning to town means an inevitable meeting with his estranged father, Otis, who also has his own connections to the former Sherriff Buddy Deeds.
For a lot of the movie, the story involving Otis and Del seemed a little tacked on and mostly ignored, but by the end, I realised it was another version of what we see with Sam and his own relationship with Buddy. It’s all about the burden that a father’s success (or notoriety) puts on their sons. And their struggle for those sons to get out from under their father’s shadows. Both Sam and Del are focused so much on competing with the reputations of their fathers and trying not to become them, they end up playing the part of who they think they should be, not who they actually are.
While watching Lone Star, I kept thinking it had wasted a great McConaughey performance. He really only has two or three short scenes, but he nails them all. Then I realised, that was probably a very intentional decision by writer / director, John Sayles. Lone Star isn’t about the reality of Sherriff Buddy Deeds, it’s about the legend of Sherriff Buddy Deeds. A legend that has only grown within this small town in the years since his death. By keeping the real thing at arm’s length, his legend remains intimidating for the audience too.
The only problem I had with Lone Star wasn’t even Lone Star’s fault. There’s a plot point almost identical to one I’ve seen recently in August: Osage County and Jane Campion’s TV mini series, Top of the Lake. I know Lone Star did it’s version of this story almost 20 years before them, but it really did take the wind out of the sails when I was hit with this late movie revelation, that I had coincidentally seen twice already recently.
Like I Said, I had no idea what to expect going in with this movie. Had I known, I’m sure I would have really liked it. Not knowing, I absolutely loved it. I never really knew where the story was going. I had a good idea where the plot was headed, but even when it got there, Lone Star had become about so much more, that the actual plot mechanics were kind of secondary by the end.