Film Notes: LONE STAR

2 p.m. Sunday, January 21, 2018
53 Wall Street Auditorium
Introduction and Film Notes by Brian Meacham

Written, directed, and edited by John Sayles (1996) 133 mins
Cinematography by stuart Dryburgh
Music by Mason Daring
Produced by Columbia Pictures
Starring Ron canada, Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey, Frances McDormand, Joe Morton, and Elizabeth Pe

After getting his start as a novelist in the mid-1970s, John Sayles moved into film, like many directors of the era—including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, and Ron Howard—by working for producer Roger Corman. Sayles made his feature debut, RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7 (1979), using money earned writing scripts for Corman, including Joe Dante’s PIRANHA (1978). Sayles’ film, about a group of friends spending a weekend together and the entanglements that ensue, earned positive reviews and found a spot on many top ten lists at the end of the year.

By the mid-1990s, Sayles had established himself as a skilled storyteller with a distinctive style and and eye for humanist, politically engaged stories about American society, from historical dramas like MATEWAN (1987) and EIGHT MEN OUT (1988) to the allegorical fantasy BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984) and the relationship drama PASSION FISH (1992). Made in 1996, LONE STAR finds the director, actors, and story coming together in a way that mark a high point in Sayles’ career. In addition to being the most commercially successful film of all of Sayles’ films by far, grossing more than $12 million, the film was a hit with critics, who praised the film’s combination of social history and mystery story.

Rob Salem of the Toronto Star described it as “Sayles’ best film,” while other critics like Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times noted the way the film doesn’t abandon the director’s interest in capturing the social fabric of contemporary America, but instead “integrates Sayles’ concerns with the heightened tension and narrative drive the thriller form provides.” By telling the story of the town of Frontera, Texas through both a contemporary lens focusing on Chris Cooper’s Sheriff Sam Deeds, and in flashbacks to 1957, where Cooper’s father Buddy is played by a young Matthew McConaughey, Sayles examines the changing relationships among not only the Anglo minority in Frontera, but also the Mexican, African American, and Native American populations of the town.

LONE STAR marks the third of five collaborations between Sayles and actor Chris Cooper since 1987, when Cooper made his film debut in Sayles’ electrifying union drama MATEWAN. Other cast members from the Sayles family of collaborators in LONE STAR include Joe Morton and New Haven native and Yale Drama alumnus Stephen Mendillo ’71. Mendillo is joined by fellow Yale Drama alum Frances McDormand ’82, in her only Sayles film to date. Kris Kristofferson, himself born in the frontier town of Brownsville, Texas, had been acting since th vbe early 1970s, but LONE STAR brought him his first role as an outright villain. Kristofferson made “an awfully good bad guy,” as critic Ken Tucker called his performance as Sheriff Charlie Wade, and Kristofferson would continue to work with Sayles on LIMBO (1999) and SILVER CITY (2004). 1996 was the year Matthew McConaughey hit it big, enjoying the popularity and exposure that would allow for the existence of a “McConaissance” twenty years later. After making a memorable debut in Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED in 1993, the summer of 1996 brought his well-reviewed performance in LONE STAR, released in June, followed a month later by his highly anticipated starring role in Joel Schumacher’s John Grisham adaptation, A TIME TO KILL.

DID YOU KNOW: It was fate: in 1996, the Lone Star Film & Television Awards, presented by the Dallas/Fort Worth Film Critics Association, went to LONE STAR for Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Supporting Actor (Ron Canada), and Best Supporting Actress (Frances McDormand).

Presented in the Treasures from the Yale Film Archive series with support from Paul L. Joskow '70 M.Phil., '72 Ph.D. Printed Film Notes are distributed to the audience before each Treasures screening.

Last modified: 
Monday, April 10, 2023 - 1:59pm