Top positive review
Wistful, elegiac, knowing and masterful
on 26 October 2015
Growing up in a small town in which your father is a local hero is almost bound to be something of a psychological determinant in anyone’s developing sense of self: and so it is with Sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), having to live under the weight of his late father, Buddy’s seemingly unassailable reputation as a man of honour and integrity. It was Buddy (Matthew McConaughey), when a deputy, who rid the town of the notorious Sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson) thereby ending his tyrannical reign.
To mark the life of such a man, the town’s mayor – also a previous deputy alongside Buddy – Hollis Pogue (Clifton James), proposes to erect a permanent memorial to his one-time colleague outside the local courthouse, which they are also going to name in Buddy’s honour.
But, as you might imagine, all is not what it seems and this is thrown into sharp relief by the discovery of the remains of a man buried in a shallow grave just outside town on a long disused army firing range.
The discovery is made by two off-duty soldiers pursuing an amateur archaeological hobby and armed, this time, with just a handy metal detector. And it throws up another important artefact in terms of what will subsequently unfold as the sands of time are blown away by Sam’s increasingly uneasy investigation into the crime and, as a corollary, his own past; the corroding remains of a sheriff’s badge in the form of a lone star.
This is a masterful film: brilliantly written, edited and directed by John Sayles and deserves a lot more attention than it probably gets. Chris Cooper, in a rare big screen lead role, imbues the character of Sam with just the right ingredients of pathos, integrity, regret and wistfulness; a kind of mature Sheriff July Johnson, his earlier role in that other elegiac western, Lonesome Dove. He is more than ably supported by Kris Kristofferson as the odious Charlie Wade, and Clifton James as the somewhat hapless Hollis Pogue, amongst a stellar cast of first rate actors.