(Air Date: Week Of 6/19/96)
John Sayles is perhaps the most thoughtful and individualistic of today's independent filmmakers. He could easily cross over to make a mass audience action flick, but he never has and very likely never will, knock wood. His latest project, "Lone Star", is an ambitious movie about a lot of different stuff, but the dots just aren't connected. The script has a first draft feel that suggests the dots could easily have been connected with a few more revisions. Because they were not and because Sayles is practically worshipped by his admirers, the final critical assessment may be that "Lone Star" is a failure, especially when compared to Sayles' best work.
My own feeling is that the actors were ready when the script wasn't and Sayles figured that he could compensate for the sloppy screenplay with careful direction, which just about kills me when I think about other meticulously crafted Sayles classics like "City Of Hope" & "Passion Fish". The fact that a full-page director's statement AND a sort of diagram to explain the ten major characters were actually included in the press kit says a lot. The fact that we have to watch the whole dang 135 minute movie to discover something that's been collecting dust in the sheriff's ex-wife's garage for-like-ever says even more.
How can you be riveted by a yarn that could easily be unraveled in the first ten minutes? Well, you might be if "Lone Star" were a comedy or a satire instead of a star-crossed romance grafted onto a murder mystery. Chris Cooper does a nice, understated job as Sheriff Sam Deeds and Elizabeth Pena is a strong presence as Pilar, his lost love, but they're playing with a sucker deck in a no-nonsense style: both are way too smart for us to believe that THEY believe their material. Kris Kristofferson is mean Sheriff Charley Wade from the 50's and Matthew McConaughey plays Buddy Deeds, his enigmatic replacement. Both are seen in sketchy flashbacks, remembered by marginal older characters who don't exactly look or sound like them. (Who would, after forty years? It really does get awfully confusing.)
When we find out who killed Wade, we don't care. When we see the generational ripples created by his slaying, we don't care about them either. And when Sayles comes up with a weird ending that only a daft critter from another planet would find acceptable, what can you say except , "Did they run out of blue pencils on location?" and "Weren't there any b.s. detectors on the payroll?" Sayles' idea, to say something about how history affects the present, isn't terrible, but how he says it in "Lone Star" is an absolute mess. You may wind up talking to yourself as you walk out of nationwide Landmark Theatres this week: "WHY in tarnation did he wrap it up like that? Was he bitten by a rattlesnake or what?" Who knows, and the very saddest thing for a Sayles fan to admit, who cares.
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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