"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

"You gotta be careful where you go pokin' ...

... Who knows what you'll find?"

As a Texan from San Antonio (where West Texas really begins), I truly love the movie Lone Star (1996) because it nails our culture so well, showing real people (instead of stereotypical cartoons), who may wear cowboy hats not as a fashion statement, but for the very practical purpose of keeping brains from being fried.

And, who directed this marvel?  John Sayles, from Schenectady, New York!!!  He did the screenplay for Piranha (1978), which was shot in San Marcos, Texas, and when the shoot was over, took a sabbatical by hitchhiking and doing part-time work down in the Rio Grande valley, absorbing a hell of a lot of the local culture, which he apparently remembered when he got around to Lone Star.

Thus, this Yankee from New York has made one of the finest movies I've ever seen that is set in my state, and in which the locale is an integral part of the story...
 Lone Star poster (from esquire.com )

The movie opens with two Army sergeants (Cliff and Mikey) discovering, on a disused rifle range, what may be the remains of an infamous former sheriff who disappeared 40 years ago.

Called out to the scene is Sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper)...
Chris Cooper as Sam Deeds - (from noisenarcs.com )

Mikey (on finding an old sheriff's badge nearby):
   "The scene of the crime."
Sam: "No telling yet if there's been a crime...
   "...but -- this country's seen a good number of disagreements over the years."

Sam is living in the shadow of his late father, Korean War hero and legendary sheriff for nearly 30 years, "Buddy" Deeds.

Interviewing the widow of Roderick Bledsoe (who ran a colored roadhouse back then)...
Sam: "Mrs. Bledsoe?"
Mrs. Bledsoe: "That's me."
Sam: "I'm Sheriff Deeds."
Mrs. Bledsoe (without a trace of malice;  simply stating a fact of life):
   "Sheriff Deeds is dead, Honey. You just Sheriff Junior."
Sam (sighing): "Yeah -- that's the story of my life."

The discovery of that badge strongly suggests that the remains may indeed be what's left of Sheriff Charlie Wade...
Kris Kristofferson  as  Charlie Wade
(modified from photo at louisianamovies.blogspot.com )

Wade was corrupt ("one of your old-fashioned bribe-or-bullets kind of sheriffs.  He took a healthy bite out of whatever moved through this county.") and brutal, with an earned reputation for casual use of lethal force, especially against minorities.

Sam (to Mrs. Bledsoe): "And no one complained?"
Mrs. Bledsoe (looking at Sam as if wondering what planet he was from):
  "Not if you was colored or Mexican!!!
  "Not if you wanted to keep breathing!"

Sam (to a Mexican jail trustee old enough to remember Wade):
   "So -- Wade was pretty tough on the Mexicans?"
Trustee: "He murdered Eladio Cruz!!  Is that tough enough for you?"
Sam: "Murdered?"
Trustee: "Shot him down in cold blood.  Chucho Montoya was there; he saw it."

In short, Charlie Wade was a first-class son of a bitch, and one of Kris Kristofferson's best roles ever.

At the time of Wade's disappearance, he had a brand new deputy, one Buddy Deeds...
Matthew McConaughey  as  Buddy Deeds
(modified from photo at one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com )

Like Dracula in the original novel, the character of Sheriff Buddy Deeds is actually offstage for much of the movie, but his presence is always felt.  McConaughey takes the limited mount of screen time he actually has here and gets the most out of it.

Mayor Hollis Pogue, who was Wade's chief deputy at the time, and would become Buddy Deeds' chief deputy when Buddy became sheriff after Wade's disappearance, described the final confrontation between Wade and Buddy when Wade was introducing him to his new duties (including collecting bribe money) in a restaurant run by Jimmie Herrara.

Wade explained to Buddy about his arrangement with Herrera to be paid off for looking the other way when Herrera employed illegals in his restaurant...

Wade: "This will be one of your pickups, Buddy --
   "first of the month;  just like the rent"
Buddy: "I'm not doin' it."
Wade: "Come again?"
Buddy: "Your deal."

    * * * * *
Wade: "You do whatever I say you do or else you put it on the trail, son."
Buddy: "Well, how about this, Charlie? ... 
   "How about you lay that shield on this table -- and vanish ... 
   "before you end up dead -- or in jail?"
Wade: "You're not making sense, Buddy."
Buddy: "You stick around and I'm bringing up charges on the county road project.
   "Two thirds of that money went went straight into your pockets."

Wade (resting his hand on the grip of his gun):
  "You're being mighty careless with your mouth, son."
Buddy (laying a Colt Peacemaker on the table in front of him):
  "You ever shoot a man who's looking you in the eye, Charlie?
  "... It's a whole different story, isn't it?"

    * * * * *
Wade: "You're a dead man."
Buddy (to the bartender after Wade storms out): "Mas cerveza por favor."

Fenton (another at the table where Hollis was telling the story to Sam):
  "That Buddy was a cool breeze. 
  "Charlie Wade was known to have put quite a few people in the ground
  "... and your daddy gets eyeball-to-eyeball with him."
Hollis (continuing the story): "He went missing the next day --
  "along with $10,000.00 in county funds from the safe in the jail.
  "Never heard from him again."

As the son of Buddy, Sam has had serious issues with daddy since he was a teenager and, from hearing stories of that confrontation, suspects that his old man just might have been the very one who planted Wade where he was found.  It wouldn't surprise him a bit.

One of the issues was Sam's friendship with Pilar, daughter of Mercedes Cruz.  He absolutely forbade any contact with her, being backed up by Mercedes on this, and managed to successfully keep them apart.

Now, many years and an unsuccessful marriage later, he once again meets ...
Elizabeth Peña as Pilar - (from thisdistractedglobe.com )

Now widowed, with two kids of her own, she finds herself once again attracted to the now available Sam Deeds, only to find her mother still strongly opposed to any connection between them.

Cliff and Mikey (the two sergeants) had come across the remains while prospecting (with a metal detector) for old bullets on that range (Mikey using them to make art sculptures). Cliff has entered into a serious relationship with black Sergeant Priscilla Worth, prompting the following exchange whose only relevance to the investigation is that in the middle of it, they come across a pistol bullet amongst all the rifle bullets they had brought back from the range...
Cliff and Mikey
(modified from photo at one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com)

Mikey: "I never thought I would see the day when a buddy of mine
   "would be dating a woman with three bars on her shoulder."
Cliff: "I think it's beyond what you'd call dating."
Mikey: "You're going to get married?"
Cliff: "Maybe."
Mikey: "You met her family? They gonna be cool about you being a white guy?"
Cliff: "Priscella says they think a woman over 30 who's not married must be
   "a lesbian. She figures that they'll be so relieved that I'm a man..."
Mikey: "Always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.
  ...
  "But marriage man -- I don't know.  Let's see ...
  "I did two tours of duty in Southeast Asia -- and I was married for five years.
  "I couldn't tell you which experience was worse.
  "I knew she was Japanese going into it...
  "... but she didn't tell me the Ninja-assassin part.
  "Her parents acted like I was gonna blow my nose on their curtains."


That dialog is one reason why a movie that is two and a quarter hours long flies by as if it was much shorter.  It goes off onto what appear to be tangents (but often aren't) because it is concerned with what happened to Charlie Wade only to the extent that The Maltese Falcon was about "Who killed Miles Archer?";  that is, what at first appears to be the central mystery is only the scaffolding for a much larger structure.

Ok, now it's time to meet the Paynes...

That rifle range is part of an Army base scheduled to be closed in the near future.  Our two sergeants are stationed there.

The newly appointed commander is one Colonel Delmore Payne, son of Otis Payne (who worked in Roderick Bledsoe's roadhouse when Wade disappeared, and had a bit of history with him.  Otis now owns and runs the roadhouse.) ...
Joe Morton  as  Colonel Delmore Payne

Coming back to this place is probably the last thing Delmore ever expected.  He too has major daddy issues, as daddy left him and his mother to move in with another woman when he was just a kid...
Delmore (to his wife): "He didn't leave.
  "He moved three houses down with one of my mother's best friends.

  "Hey, Delmore!  Where's your daddy?!!!
  "Godforsaken town!  Everybody in everybody else's business!"
Wife: "Well, we're stuck here for three years.  We have to see him."
Delmore: "NO!!! -- We don't!"

To add to his fun, Delmore has a son of his own, who's getting just as alienated from him, wondering why in hell he can't even see his own grandfather.  Naturally, the son handles that problem on his own.

But, stubborn as he is, Delmore is capable of thinking and learning.  When disciplining a private who has failed a drug test, after hearing her out he decides to give her another chance.  Afterwards, he just quietly stares off into nothingness for ten or fifteen seconds, and you don't have to be an arts major to realize that he just might be considering that someone else may also deserve a second chance.

Among the people Sam talks to, in his investigation of things past, is Wesley Birdsong, an Indian who knew his father; now running a curio shop where he lives on a desolate road in the middle of nowhere...

Sam: "Sell much out here?"
Wesley: "How am I going to sell things?  Nobody comes around.
   "This stretch of road -- runs between Nowhere -- and Not Much Else."
Sam: "A hell of a spot to put a business."
Wesley (grinning): "Don't see much competition, do you?"

Wesley (continuing on the subject of Buddy Deeds):
  "Now, your father -- this wasn't what he had in mind.
  "He come out of Korea -- bought a Chevy with too much engine.
  "He used to come roaring up and down this road all hours of the day and night...
  "... looking for somebody to race.

Sam (trying to get daddy's measure): "Do you think he killed anybody in Korea?"
Wesley: "They don't hand out those medals for hiding in your foxhole."
 ...
  "If he hadn't found the deputy's job ...
  "... I believe Buddy might've gone down the other path, got into serious trouble.
  "It settled him right down...
  "That -- and your mother.
  "... Of course, he had that other one later."

The movie is largely a journey of discovery by kids now grown, learning that there was far, far more to their parents than they could have possibly imagined.  You think that you know everything there is to know about your folks?  You just might have a hell of a surprise coming.

Yes!  You do learn what happened with Charlie Wade, but it's not the point of the movie.

Family secrets and second chances: That's what the movie is really about.

Wesley probably had the last word on the subject of those secrets...
Gordon Tootoosis  as  Wesley Birdsong
(modified from photo at one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com )

To Sam (while pulling out a snakeskin from a diamondback rattlesnake),
   "Here!  This big fella was sleeping in a crate at Cisco's junkyard...
   "...right when I was going to open it to see what was in 'er...
   "...jumped right at my face."


   "Scared me so bad I had to kill him without thinking."

   "You gotta be careful where you go pokin'.
   "Who knows what you'll find?"


Addendum - 09 Jul 2011 - While browsing through the "Favorite Lone Star quotes" board topic on the IMDB's page for this movie, I came across a comment made a couple of years ago by commenter timmy_501.

For his sig he used this line (from William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun) ...
 The past is never dead. It's not even past.


That line would make an absolutely perfect tag line for Lone Star.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good Article

Paul_In_Houston said...

I love praise, but this is the second time Anonymous has left that identical comment on one of my posts.

The first time, it was on the previous post and I rejected it as spam.

You see, in both cases it was caught by blogger.com's spam filter (which has proven itself quite good), there was no trace at all of any visit on my site meter (another good indicator), and each time it was to the latest post on my site.

So, I'm fairly confident that I've just been complimented by a spambot.

As to this post, I would consider it "decent" at best; it was a labor of love about something I like very much, but there is so much I see that I wish I had done differently.
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Brenda said...

You label several of the photos as "modified". What did you you do to them, and why?

Paul Gordon said...

What did you do to them, and why?

Fair question.

The original picture of Kris Kristofferson as Charlie Wade was too small, a bit dark and was mirrored.

I used a light version of Photoshop to double its dimensions, undo the mirroring and to brighten it a bit.

The other three were way too dark (a common occurrence with screen captures from DVD). In their cases, I just brightened them until they looked right.
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