The next post will be on or before Wednesday 29th March


The affectingly handsome Chris Cooper (born 1951) who hails from Kansas, is an extremely talented and versatile actor, who in a prolific career has oddly played only a few leading roles. He made his name as July Johnson in the phenomenally popular though definitely watchable western TV mini-series Lonesome Dove (1989) and you might have seen him as real life detective Alwyn Dewey (investigator of the infamous 1959 murders of the Kansas Clutter family) in the Truman Capote biographical movie, Capote (2005). Alternatively, should your tastes be rather more homely and visceral, you can see him in Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014) where he portrays a supervillain. Cooper also takes a solemn and chilling role in Breach (2007) as an FBI agent turned traitor, who ends his days terrifyingly alone in a high security jail. He regularly works with the director John Sayles (born 1950) and was in his 1987 Matewan about a famous coal strike in Virginia in 1920, as well as City of Hope (1991) which focuses on a spoiled young man turning against his rich and bankrolling father. He also takes the lead in Sayles’s Silver City (2004) a comic satire on someone rather like George W Bush, and later appears in his Amigo (2010) about the notorious Filipino-American War, something rarely covered in US cinema, and which is set in 1900.

It was Sayles who also directed the 1996 Texas murder mystery Lone Star and who again felicitously pairs Cooper and Kris Kristofferson as he had in Silver City. I first saw it on the satellite movie channel TCM and enjoyed it so much I have watched it another 5 times, and expect to watch it maybe once (or just possibly twice) a year for the rest of my life. I know only one other person who has seen it, the gifted UK novelist Christopher Burns, a man who surely knows more about the cinema and all it means than anyone else in the universe, and he too is a professed admirer. So it is, that I am recommending that you get yourself the DVD or whatever medium suits you, and sit back and permit yourself to be subtly enthralled.

In Lone Star, and in keeping with his scrutinising and kindly face, Cooper portrays an undeniably good man, Sam Deeds, emphatically neither traitor nor supervillain, recently installed as small town sheriff in Frontera on the Mexican border, and where he stands in the shoes of his legendary sheriff father Buddy, aka Matthew McConaughey (born 1969). His Dad was in fact a fearful legend at home, judge, jury and executioner as Sam drily jests at the official unveiling of a statue to the late, great sheriff. The townsfolk have made a lovable folk hero out of Buddy, not a saint but shucks you knew where you stood with him, whereas Sam soon discovers that his Dad only appeared so as contrasting foil to his colleague Charlie Wade, a fearsome and horrifying monster of a sheriff played brilliantly by Kris Kristofferson (born 1936). The film switches deftly back between the present of the early 90s, and forty years earlier to the prehistoric 50s, when corrupt and murderous policemen like Wade could operate unrestrained. Especially that is, in harassing and extorting from the Mexican wetbacks, covertly trying to enter the land of plenty, and the local Blacks or at least those ones running bars and gambling dens like Otis Payne (Big O,. played by Ron Canada) and from whom Wade can vauntingly demand his start of the month rake off. In one set piece Wade gloatingly bullies the young Otis into pouring him his beer and then shifts the glass and accuses him of spilling it. Next, he punches him brutally in the guts, leering that we don’t have Houston ways down here, boy, and he has to watch his uppity face and show respect. However, his next assault on Otis is to be his last, when with deputy Hollis in tow, he is about to shoot Otis in the back for resisting arrest (= for operating a lucrative card game he hadn’t cut Wade in on) but the door flies open just then and it is Buddy Deeds who shoots Charlie Wade in his back.

The details of Wade’s killing are revealed near the end of the film, but don’t worry I haven’t spoiled it for you, as Sam had early guessed who the culprit and his collaborators were, once he was informed of a grisly find at a disused army shooting range. Two off duty soldiers trawling with metal detectors find a human skeleton, a Lone Star sheriff’s badge, and a distinctive Masonic ring, all of which point to Wade and soon this is proved by forensic examination. Maddeningly, deputy Hollis and bar owner Otis refuse to help Sam in his enquiries but plead a laughable ignorance. In fact, they had helped Buddy to bury Wade 40 years ago, and also taken $10,000 dollars from Frontera community funds. The version that they gave out was that Wade had disappeared into nowhere and decamped with the money, but instead they had given it to set up local Hispanic businesswoman Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon) with a restaurant which she still operates and in the harshest possible matriarch style. Four decades ago, Cruz’s husband Eladio had been gunned down by Wade for trafficking wetbacks without including him in the deal, and later as a perfectly dovetailing irony, Buddy had been having an affair with Eladio’s widow that everyone in the town had known about and winked at. Impressively the depiction of the two-facedness and harshness of small town life, is not just confined to powerful whites like Buddy and Wade, for rigid and unforgiving Mercedes regularly rings the border police when she sees wetbacks arrive and likewise snaps nastily at her restaurant staff to speak English and not Spanish. What’s more, both she and Hollis are pressing for an enlarged courtroom and a new jail in honour of Buddy, even when Sam assures them that the current one is more than adequate, and dourly adds that one of their councillor colleagues would also be the appointed contractor. Similarly, relaxed and pragmatic Otis is counterpointed by his insufferably uptight son Colonel Delamore Payne (Joe Morton) who by fateful chance is the new and black commander at the Frontera army base. Del will have no truck with his Dad who was a serial womaniser, and so there is a perfect and compelling historical parallel between Sam and Buddy and Delamore and Otis.

Most fateful of all is Sam’s renewed love affair with his teenage sweetheart, the widow Pilar (Elizabeth Pena), daughter of Mercedes and a local schoolteacher. Their young romance had been violently discouraged by both parents and there is a moving scene where Buddy in the 1950s storms around a drive-in cinema with a hideous flashlight, and unearths Sam and Pilar embracing in the back seat. He roughly bawls his son out of the car and Pilar runs off direly humiliated. A decade later frustrated Sam marries and soon divorces Bunny, a hyperactive sports freak with mental health problems, played wonderfully gabbling and inane, by the excellent Coen Bros regular, Frances McDormand (born 1957). But as he confesses to Pilar when they salvage their intense romance, though it is 40 years after the cruelty of that drive-in embarrassment, he has always kept her close to his heart. There is to be sure one stunning sting in the tail that might have thwarted their renewed tender love affair, but thankfully for this subtly heart-warming and tightly structured moral fable, it does not.

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