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!