Lone Star is a richly layered ensemble piece featuring a complex plot and complicated characters written and directed by John Sayles. The convoluted plot is a murder mystery in which much darker elements of political corruption are slowly revealed to the be the machinations behind the scenes and the touches upon a range of themes from mental illness to incest. Quietly released in the summer of 1996 the same weekend as Disney’s animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger action adventure, this serious alternative managed to find a niche audience that would wind up earning box office returns that quadrupled its meager three million dollar budget. The Schwarzenegger film—Eraser—by way of contrast wound up with a box office that barely doubled its 100 million dollar budget.
While the minimal budget meant that no certified box office stars appeared in the film, the box office may well have benefited from the release of a much more high profile film featuring one its then-unknowns: Matthew McConaughey. Just a month after the release of Lone Star, the film was reaping the benefits of its young star’s breakthrough role in the John Grisham thriller A Time to Kill. While Sayles could not afford the pay the salary of a big name star, the upside of that inconvenience was being allowed to hire actors right for the role. The large cast also includes Kris Kristofferson in what some consider his finest performance, Elizabeth Pena and—like McConaughey, two other future Oscar winners—Chris Cooper and Frances McDormand.
Appearing on a number of end of year top ten lists, Lone Star earned Sayles his second Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. He would be nominated for the same category at the Golden Globes and BAFTA. Elizabeth Pena collected a Best Supporting Actress honor at the Independent Spirit Awards. Perhaps not surprisingly, and certainly fittingly, the movie swept the Lone Star Film and Television Awards, picking up trophies for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Frances McDormand in this instance as well as both Director and Screenwriter for Sayles.