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John Sayles' LONE STAR is an intriguing mystery with all the cliffhangers of a soap opera. When the remains of a murdered man are discovered near a small town on the Texas/Mexico border, Sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) begins an investigation which he fears may lead back to his own late father. The bones are soon identified as belonging to Charley Wade, a vicious, bigoted lawman who ruled the town through sheer intimidation and who vanished one night forty years before, following a fight with Sam's father, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), who was a town deputy at that time. Local gossip holds that Buddy killed Wade, even though ten thousand dollars in city funds disappeared along with the hated man.
The cast of Lone Star includes:
- Matthew McConaughey
- Chris Cooper
- Clifton James
Well-integrated flashbacks, many of them related by Hollis Pogue (Clifton James), also a former deputy and the current mayor, slowly reveal what actually occurred on that night as Sam's investigation proceeds. Buddy followed Wade as sheriff to become a well-loved figure, even among the Mexican-American citizens who had been so brutally treated by the older man. But Sam knew another side of his father, a harsh man with prejudices of his own.One of his most painful memories is of being humiliated as a teenager by Buddy while at the local drive-in with the beautiful Mexican girl, Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Pena).
Among the new revelations Sam encounters are the fact that Buddy pushed through the construction of a man-made lake which displaced a large and long-standing Mexican settlement before buying much of the prime shoreline land for almost nothing, as well as the discovery that his father used unpaid prisoner labor to help build a house on that land.
The ugly facts uncovered about Charley Wade are much worse, however. They range from his brutal treatment of young Otis Payne (Ron Canada) in his own social club - the only spot in the area in which African-Americans could relax - to the cold-blooded murder of Eladio Cruz (Gilbert R. Cuellar Jr.), Pilar's father, when he found him smuggling illegal aliens into the state.
During his search, Sam resumes his relationship with the now-divorced Pilar, and the two become lovers. He also makes a trip to the home of his ex-wife Bunny, to get some letters written by his father years before.