Lone Star (1996) - Rotten Tomatoes

Lone Star (1996)



Critic Consensus: Smart and absorbing, Lone Star represents a career high point for writer-director John Sayles -- and '90s independent cinema in general.

Movie Info

Reminiscent of a fine novel in depth and complexity, writer-director John Sayles' acclaimed drama uses the investigation of a 25-year-old murder as the framework for a detailed exploration of life in a Texas border town. The nominal center of the film is Sheriff Sam Deeds (the superb, subtle Chris Cooper), the chief law officer of the town of Frontera. The low-key Sam is also the son of the late Buddy Deeds (played in flashbacks by Matthew McConaughey), who also served as town sheriff and still maintains a legendary status for ousting the vicious, corrupt Charlie Wade (a memorably vicious Kris Kristofferson). The discovery of Wade's decades-old skeleton, however, calls this legend into question, and forces Sam to begin an investigation. During this search for the truth, Sam must come to terms with his own troubled emotions about his father and his still-lingering romantic feelings for Pilar (Elizabeth Peņa), a Hispanic woman that Buddy had prevented him from seeing as a young man. Lone Star's scope encompasses not only this story but the whole town, addressing Pilar's difficulties as a schoolteacher, the conflict between incoming immigrants and border patrol officers, and the troubles faced by the African-American commander of the local military base. Sayles expertly moves between past and present, weaving his stories together to illustrate, as in his earlier City of Hope (1991), how the seemingly disparate parts of a community are in fact intimately interconnected. Raising issues of race, politics, and identity, Lone Star nevertheless focuses most of its attention on its complex, believable characters, well-performed by an excellent ensemble cast. One of the most financially successful of Sayles' low-key movies, Lone Star received glowing notices and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.more
Rating: R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Genre: Western, Drama, Romance, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By: John Sayles
In Theaters:
On DVD: Nov 9, 1999
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Chris Cooper
as Sam Deeds
Joe Morton
as Delmore Payne
Ron Canada
as Otis Payne
Clifton James
as Hollis Pogue
Kris Kristofferson
as Charlie Wade
Miriam Colon
as Mercedes Cruz
Jeff Monahan
as Young Hollis
Gabriel Casseus
as Young Otis
Vanessa Martinez
as Young Pilar
Tay Strathairn
as Young Sam
Eddie Robinson
as Chet Payne
LaTanya Richardson
as Priscilla Worth
Chandra Wilson
as Athena Johnson
Damon Guy
as Shadow
Richard Coca
as Enrique
Tony Frank
as Fenton
Richard A. Jones
as Ben Wetzel
Joe Stevens
as Deputy Travis
Randy Stripling
as Roderick Bledsoe
Beatrice Winde
as Minnie Bledsoe
Tony Amendola
as Chucho Montoya
Gordon Tootoosis
as Wesley Birdsong
Dee Macaluso
as Anglo Mother
Luis Cobo
as Mexican-American Fat...
Marco Perella
as Anglo Father
Don Phillips
as Principal
Mary Jane R. Hernand...
as Mexican-American Mot...
Olga Luna
as Waitress
James Borrego
as Young Chucho
Lisa Suarez
as Marisol
Azalea Mendez
as Young Mercedes
Don Phillips Jr.
as High School Principa...
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Lone Star

Critic Reviews for Lone Star

All Critics (55) | Top Critics (12)

[A] complex and rewarding new Texas murder mystery.

Full Review… | March 22, 2013
Seattle Times
Top Critic

A richly textured and thoroughly engrossing drama that ranks with indie filmmaker John Sayles' finest work.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Sayles' witty, vividly demotic dialogue knocks even Tarantino for six, the characterisations are uniformly colourful and credible, the soundtrack and the widescreen camerawork exemplary ...

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Sayles' latest never bores during its 21/4-hour unreeling. But neither does it soar, despite finessing a complex flashback narrative set in 1957 and present-day.

January 1, 2000
USA Today
Top Critic

John Sayles' "Lone Star" contains so many riches, it humbles ordinary movies.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

The great, stirring epic "Lone Star" stands as a peak in the career of John Sayles, who already has such admirably serious films to his credit.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Lone Star

The sheriff of a small Texas border town who languishes in the shadow of his legendary father investigates the murder of a corrupt predecessor who disappeared 40 years previously when his skeleton is discovered buried in the desert. John Sayles' complex murder mystery uses a criminal investigation as a foundation of an intimate exploration of the complexities of tribalism, racial tension and prejudice in the melting pot of seemingly disparate cultures that inhabit the borderlands of the United States. It's a very clever and insightful film as the brilliant Chris Cooper's investigation peels back the layers of secrecy and mistrust to reveal a set of relationships that are more like an intricately interwoven patchwork of greys than the blacks and whites that appear on the surface. Reminiscent of some of the Coen brother's best work as well as The Wire in its detailed examination of race and culture on both sides of the law, Lone Star is a much deeper, richer experience than the usual whodunnit. A forgotten minor classic that deserves more recognition than it currently enjoys.

xGary Xx

Super Reviewer


A near-masterpiece of the noir genre, detailing the dirty underpinnings of a close-knit town in Texas, specifically a respected sheriff (Chris Cooper) who stumbles upon a long-buried mystery that his late father (Matthew McConaughey, played in flash-backs) might have been involved in. What makes this film so impressive is its assured consistent plotting and character detailing throughout. It is not focused on wowing you for most of it is entirety, instead moreso on telling a story concerning race, loyalty, and family all in one two-hour spread. Then, like a freight train, the locks become unhinged, and the truth becomes clear, and it strikes with resolute force. Cooper's brilliant subtle turn may be the very best of his career, and McConaughey, in the few scenes he is in, also gets to show off his charisma and undeniable on-screen presence. Most impressively, the directing remains controlled and confident throughout its entirely. The only thing you could make a complaint about is that it may run a little too long (135 minutes), but outside of that, this film is dead-on.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

Far too long for what it is, I just couldn't concentrate on it and couldn't understand what was going on. Not my type of movie.

Sophie Burgess

Super Reviewer

Lone Star Quotes

– Submitted by Fanli Y (2 years ago)

Discussion Forum

Discuss Lone Star on our Movie forum!