With Chris Cooper, Matthew McConaughey, Elizabeth Pena, Joe Mortin, Frances McDormand and Kris Kristofferson
“You’re bein’ mighty careless with your mouth son.”
Two things struck me about this film. The first is the screenplay, its pitch perfect. It’s greatness. If David Mamet and the Coen Brother’s had a baby that was a screenplay – it would be “Lone Star”. The second thing that strikes me about the film is how Sayles (this is my very first John Sayles movie) was able to put forth racism in the form of a southern film noir. Think “Blood Simple” meets “Do the Right Thing”.
The film opens with the uncovering of a body in the Texas dessert. All that is left is the hole is the skeleton, a sheriff’s star and a Free Mason’s ring. The Sheriff of the town Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) uncovers many secrets that lay with that of the dead body. As Cooper investigates the mysterious body, the small town he lives in is dedicating a day to his father, Buddy Deeds (McConaughey) who stood up to the corrupt Sheriff Charley Wade (Kristofferson) and “saved” the town from more than forty years ago.
Tensions build in the town; the Mexican population is now the majority and a predominantly black military base is about to close down. The white population has little left to hold onto so they all cling onto the legacy of McConaughey. Cooper knows him as more then the legendary lawman, he knows him for the man he truly was.
I have never liked Matthew McConaughey in much of anything, but with the little screen time he has in the film during flashback sequences he grabs you, and absorbs into you. Chris Cooper does an excellent job as always balancing the truths about his father, and the towns brooding race relations.
Kris Kristofferson is cold as ice in the role as McConaughey’s mentor and enemy. His character Charley Wade has an influence on the entire town, and he puts a hold on everyone by collecting tribute from every business, every race. The way the camera moves around Kristofferson is brilliant. We never stop moving, every time Kristofferson is in the frame, we’re normally rolling to the side of him, as if his hardness is going to spill off onto us, the audience.
What makes this film so complex is that it deals not only with the Cooper, McConaughey, Kristofferson arc but it also deviates to Elizabeth Pena’s story between her and her mother. It also branches off to Joe Morton’s storyline with him being the highest ranking officer at the soon to be closed Military base, and his relationship with his estranged father who runs an “all black” club outside of town.
This film is what “Crash” and all other “white guilt” race relations movies try to be.
The ending to the film is such a climactic showdown it can almost, just almost rival that of “Unforgiven” or “Tombstone”. It’s shot with Kristofferson barging into the “all black bar” and demanding tribute from the bar owner. The sequence is queued up to an old school blues tune where we see Kristofferson yelling, but can’t hear him. The only sounds we hear is the blues song and ambient noise. It’s brilliantly done.
The editing of this film is one of the best I’ve seen. The way it crosscuts from current time with Cooper, to forty plus years ago with McConaughey or Kristofferson. It is a great display of the talent of John Sayles. This film leaves me wanting more of this story, more of these so unbelievably rich characters. This film leaves me wanting more John Sayles.
Someone recommend a Sayles movie to me!