Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rent this movie? Lone Star

"Lone Star poster," All rights reserved

Lone Star 1996
Written and directed by John Sayles
With Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Pena, Kris Kristofferson

With his 1996 movie, Lone Star, writer/director John Sayles may have tried to juggle one -- or two -- too many subplots, but the audacity of his ambition makes us buy it. Our most literary film artist, Sayles intends his interweaving stories to tell a larger overarching story -- about a community, not just its individuals. Lone Star is set in a sleepy Texas border town, where everyone falls into one of three groups -- anglo, Mexican or black. The film's murder mystery & love story bring out ethnic tensions in these characters but also their deep connections.

For me, the best thing in Lone Star is the strongest of those connections -- the love story between anglo sherriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) & Mexican school teacher Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Pena). After many years away, Sam has returned to town to take over his father's old job. Pilar is now a widow with two teen-aged children. Gradually, we learn that Sam & Pilar were once passionate teenage lovers, that they were violently separated & kept apart by their respective families, eventually resulting in Sam's self-exile. Now they're free to do what they want.

We watch their tense middle-aged re-courtship. As Sam, Cooper is tall & lean & slow-moving (by the time he has taken off his Stetson, blocked it in his big hands, & put it back on, another actor would be done with the scene). But he's anything but relaxed. His long lugubrious, unhandsome face ticks back & forth between hard-won control & a kind of desperation as he tries, politely, to communicate his feelings to Pilar. Pena's Pilar, on the other hand, makes no attempt to hide her caroming feelings. She's a proud & beautiful woman in her prime, making her way in a small town with no eligible men, & she's lonely. But she's also still angry at Sam.

When Sam & Pilar finally make love near the end of the film, all their longing & regret, going back years, seems to explode. A short scene, it shows us heads & shoulders only, filmed from above. We're unable to see Sam's face, only Pilar's as she moves on top of him. We think we're watching a sedate version of the sex act-- cable but not HBO -- & then Pilar cries out; her orgasm surges through her face, again & again, more powerfully each time, leaving her gasping, her features smoothed-out, happy in Sam's arms. It's quite a moment. And not just because it's sexy (which it is).

Not long afterward, we learn the real reason Sam's & Pilar's parents kept them apart as teenagers (hint: it's not racism). In fact, it's a shocker worthy of Bunuel. But what do these two star-crossed lovers do with this dire revelation? They flip it aside. They laugh & reach for each other

I loved this movie.

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