From writer/director John Sayles, an attempted Great American Epic that falls only slightly short of its immoderate ambitions. Nearly 40 years after the mysterious disappearance of brutal Sheriff Charley Wade (Kris Kristofferson), his skeletal remains are

unearthed outside the tiny border town of Frontera, TX. Rio County's latest sheriff, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), begins to suspect not only that Wade was murdered, but also that he died at the hands of the late Sheriff Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), a local hero and Sam's own father. This

Oedipal mystery serves as the pretext for a much broader investigation of the substance of the American past. In what is easily his most accomplished film to date, Sayles aims to show how authority uses history to construct the borders that separate countries, communities and individuals. The film

stumbles a bit towards the end (some deeply rooted conflicts are implausibly resolved), but terrific performances from a large cast -- particularly Elizabeth Pena as Sam's childhood sweetheart -- smooth over the rough spots.