This is my entry in the Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon, hosted by the lovey Aurora at Once Upon a Screen. Click HERE for mucho more!
I love this film. Everything about it feels authentic, everything from the town, the characters, the emotions and the secrets. It is my favorite John Sayles film, and that is saying a lot. Dealing with the deceptively ordinary, it is anything but. The overwhelming humanity makes you catch your breath, not so much as it unfolds before you, but maybe later, as you sit back and go “aha…of course.”
The story begins with the discovery of a skeleton in the Texas/Mexican border town of Frontera. Frontera is a melting pot whose diversity keeps it simmering. Turns out the bones belong to the hated sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson), who disappeared in 1957. By all accounts, Charlie was a real SOB – a corrupt tyrant, a bigot and thug. The Mexicans hated him, the blacks hated him and the whites weren’t too fond of him, either. Legend has it that Charlie had absconded with $10,000 of county money. There are lots of legends and lots of back stories in Frontera. There are spoilers galore ahead, so if you’d prefer not to know how it all turns out, stop reading now.
|He used to be a big shot....|
The current Sheriff, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) is a man who got his job on the coattails of his wildly popular father, the late sheriff Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey). Buddy was Charlie Wade’s deputy at the time of his disappearance and as glad as everyone was to see Charlie go, they were glad to see Buddy stay. It’s up to Sam to find out what happened to Charlie Wade.
|Sam really, really wants another job......|
Reluctantly, Sam must revisit the stories of the fathers and sons and mothers and daughters of Frontera in order to learn the truth. Otis “Big O” Payne is owner of nightclub and a leader in the town’s African-American community. His son, Delmore, is the base commander of the nearby Army base. Delmore has no respect for Otis, due to his cheating ways. Otis runs a somewhat shady establishment, but Otis learned long ago what had to be done to get along when men like Charlie Wade ran the show. Otis knows something, but what?
|Good Cop/Bad Cop|
Miriam Colon, the owner of a local restaurant, knows something, too, Sam has a particular dislike for Miriam because Sam was sweet on Miriam’s daughter, Pilar (Elizabeth Pena), but both Miriam and Buddy put the kibosh on romance. Sam thought it was because both parents disapproved of a white/Hispanic relationship.
By chance, Sam and Pilar reconnect and resume their love story. Meanwhile, Sam learns the final truth about everyone: Charlie tried to kill Otis because he thought he was being cut out of Otis’s illegal gambling profits, Buddy and his partner, Hollis, shot Wade to protect Otis and buried him in the desert, and Buddy and Miriam were lovers. As the last piece of the puzzle slips into place, Sayles’s story of diversity and community comes into focus. Buddy was Pilar’s father; Sam and Pilar are half brother and sister. And they don’t care. They agree to continue their thwarted romance and say to hell with the past. In a place where everyone is different yet the same, this feels right.
|So many secrets in such a small town|
Remember - there is mucho more at Once Upon a Screen!
Wow. Where the hell have I been? I haven't seen this and the story is right up my alley. Interesting mix of actors in the cast too. An eye-opener and noted in my long list of must-sees.
Thanks so much for submitting this to the blogathon, Marsha!
I haven't seen it either. Looks fascinating. Thanks, Chick of the Flicks. It's on my must-see list as well.
This is a great film, but one that would not quickly come to mind! Thanks for bringing up an obscure gem, starring Elizabeth Pena who was one of my favorite contmeporary actresses.
This is the movie that made me fall in love with Chris Cooper, and I think it's Elizabeth Pena's best performance. Thanks for the review!
This sounds like it a riot, and it's a great pick for the blogathon. I haven't seen too many of Chris Cooper's films, so perhaps this is a good place to start.
Aurora - thank you so much for hosting this even - so many interesting articles.
Hi Inge - thank you for stopping by. I love this film so much, so I was just thrilled to be able to write about it.
Hi Summer. Thanks for your comment. I love Elizabeth Pena in this. So sad that she did not appear in more films before her death.
Hello, Debra: I agree - the performances are stellar - and Sayles tells great story.
Hi Girls - oh, Chris Cooper is so good in this film - a must see!
I'm another one who hasn't seen this. It looks terrific! I think my husband would like it too. Chris Cooper is always worth the price of admission, isn't he? Thanks!
I love Sayles films too, but this is one I have not seen. Not sure why I have avoided it, but now I will have to make up for my desretion.
Thanks for posting this. I've been preaching this film for nearly 20 years to anyone that will listen.
Plus I was completely infatuated with Ms. Pena.
Somehow this one has flown below my radar. Thanks for illuminating it!
I'm another blogger who hasn't seen this one, but sounds great - like something to enjoy in a matinée with my grandparents. Did you knwo that "Frontera" means "border" in Spanish? Clever name, huh?
Thanks for the kind comment!
Hi Ruth - yes... anytime young Chris Cooper is around, things are automatically better!
John - it really is a goodie. I am surprised at how many people haven't seen this film. It is one of my favorites.
Mr Unknown - I am s glad someone else besides me has seen this! I am always beating the drum about it.
Kelly - thank you for stopping by and do try to see it if you get the chance.
Le - yeah, that wasn't a very imaginative name for a border town was it?
Have loved John Sayles' work since "LIANNA." This here "LONE STAR" is a masterpiece. When's he coming out with something new ( or have I missed it? ) This movie doesn't have all the answers, doesn't take the easy way out. Shows a bit of the history of the relationship between Mexicans & Texans & African-Americans and race relations in general. America, what a country we are. So sad Eliabeth Pena is now gone. She had a good solid career going and really should have done more. I think Hollywood liked those 'flashier' Latinas better, but hey, what do I know. Yes...I must wait on the end of a very long line for Chris (( Swoon! )) Cooper. I've got to revisit this movie. Good cast, good film, good director, good write - up!! Thanxxx for spotlighting this.
Well, Chick, it sounds like I missed a really good one. I tend to kind of ignore western movies -- there are certainly some that I like a lot, but I'm going to have to change my habit of looking over these, and give more of them a chance. Really interesting piece!
Miss Maven - thanks so much for stopping by! Yes - Elisabeth Pena sadly feft us too soon and never really got more roles that showcased her talent. So please - do watch this and enjoy!
Hi Becky! This film is not really a western - more like a mystery and personal drama played out in a western town. Good stuff.
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