Lone Star: Western, Noir, Romance


I just watched the movie Lone Star.  It’s all around good movie.  The script and acting were solid, and the mixing of past and present was very smooth.  I wouldn’t call it a great movie.  It’s just quality Hollywood fare.

There was one thing that intrigued me about it though.  Outwardly, it was a contemporary Western with good guys and bad guys.  However, the story was more complex than good versus bad because the good couldn’t be determined until the truth had been discovered.  So, this is where it had an element of Noir to it, but nowhere near as dark and tragic as typical Noir. 

Where it was most like Noir was in the idyllic surface of a small town with old secrets that no one wants to talk about.  Along with this, there is the detective-like character who is determined to discover the truth no matter what.  He is the rugged american individualist type with his personal code of ethics, and that is where the Noir elements connect with the Western setting of the story. 

So, this Westernized Noir replaces the Noir oriental aspect with latino culture.  What would be the femme fatale is latino, but although she is part of the dark past she doesn’t try to pull the hero down.  Instead, there is an easy, almost too easy, resolution at the end.  Even though the past hangs heavy, the hero manages to escape its hold.  This is where it departs from most noir, but then again it’s not entirely unkown for noir protagonists to find redemption.  He avoids self-destruction because he is interested in the truth and not vengeance or even legalistic justice, and this aspect is pure Noir for the protagonists in Westerns aren’t usually all that interested in truth.

Some further clear elements of noir are the flashbacks.  It reminded me of Citizen Kane because a central character is never seen in the present even though everyone talks about him.  He is present by his absence.  The question is whether he was the good guy that everyone made him out to be.

The Western setting is interesting as it seems so different from Noir.  The latter emphasizes the human world of cities, and it’s as if humans are trapped in their own human world.  Lone Star begins with a scene of the wide desert which makes the human world seem small.  Noir films are filled with stark contrasts of shadow and light whereas the desert is brightly lit.  However, the desert creates a similar starkness that serves a similar purpose as that of Noir. 

The camera work mostly isn’t very much in the noir style, but there are scenes that have a noir feeling.  Near the beginning, a police officer approaches some young men sitting on a truck.  It cuts to an image of his approaching as seen in the reflection of a mirror.  The kid in the truck is working on it and so is laying on his back.  The kid looks up and sees (and the audience sees with him) the officer upside down.  The use of reflections and odd camera angles is something Noir uses often, but it’s only occasionally used in this movie.

The story felt very familiar even though it was done in a fairly complex way.  It wasn’t fully Noir or fully Western, but it melded them together.  Also, by mixing in the happy ending of a Romance, it tamed the darker streaks of both Noir and Western films.  Romances necessitate clear resolutions which neither Noirs nor Westerns need.  Especially for Noirs, clear resolutions are rare.  In Lone Star, the mystery is solved and the ending was a bit anti-climactic.

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