3 Movies Like Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

Staff & contributors

All kinds of lines — those separating good and bad, past and present, and even international borders — are blurred in this neo-Western gem. Though it’s entirely set in a small Texas border town, Lone Star pulls off all the gravity and sweep of an epic thanks to its seemingly-micro-actually-macro focuses and sprawling ensemble. It’s all kickstarted by the discovery of a skull in the scrub near Frontera, Texas; Sheriff Sam Deeds (a quietly captivating Chris Cooper) thinks he knows who it belongs to and who might have buried it there: his deceased father Buddy (Matthew McConaughey), the much-loved former sheriff of the town whose shadow Sam has long been living in.

And so an investigation of this historic crime begins, unearthing along the way many more skeletons — both individual and national — as Sam interviews those who knew his father and the victim. Lone Star’s brilliance is in the way it entwines with Sam’s investigation a broader exploration of America’s sins and their lingering legacies, particularly the many-headed effects of its history of racism. Lone Star weaves its political and personal elements together with seamless flourish, making for a rich tapestry of America’s past and present that never sidesteps the grander questions it provokes.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Beatrice Winde, Chandra Wilson, Chris Cooper, Clifton James, Eleese Lester, Elizabeth Peña, Frances McDormand, Gabriel Casseus, Gordon Tootoosis, Jeff Monahan, Jesse Borrego, Joe Morton, Joe Stevens, John Griesemer, Kris Kristofferson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Leo Burmester, Marco Perella, Matthew McConaughey, Miriam Colon, Oni Faida Lampley, Randy Stripling, Richard Coca, Ron Canada, Sam Vlahos, Stephen J. Lang, Stephen Mendillo, Tony Amendola, Tony Frank, Tony Plana, Vanessa Martinez

Director: John Sayles

This gripping legal drama is based on a case we still don’t know the truth of — which might make it seem like a pointless exercise, were it not for the fact that it’s infectiously fascinated by greater questions than whether wealthy socialite Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons) really did attempt to kill wife Sunny (Glenn Close), who was left comatose by the mysterious event. After being convicted, Claus recruited for his appeal then-hotshot lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), now better known for personal allegations and his defense of men even more nefarious than Claus. Reversal follows the tricky legal argument-crafting process, embedding us with Dershowitz’s elite team as they meticulously comb through the prosecution’s theory to find the hairline crack they need to break the case open.

But why go to all this effort to exonerate an unlikeable and frustratingly enigmatic man like Claus, whom Dershowitz apparently doesn’t even believe himself? While we’re morbidly fascinated by unknowable cases like this, it’s the passion of the defense that’s really puzzling — something Reversal shrewdly gets as it wrestles with the ethical arguments for and against Dershowitz’s involvement, making for a pre-courtroom drama whose power extends beyond that of the particular case it documents.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alan Pottinger, Annabella Sciorra, Bill Camp, Brian Delate, Bruno Eyron, Christine Baranski, Christine Dunford, Constance Shulman, Edwin McDonough, Ericka Klein, Felicity Huffman, Fisher Stevens, Frank Stellato, Frederick Neumann, Glenn Close, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Jack Gilpin, Jad Mager, JD Cullum, Jeremy Irons, Jessika Cardinahl, Johann Carlo, Julie Hagerty, Keith Reddin, Larry Sherman, Leo Leyden, LisaGay Hamilton, Malachy McCourt, Mitchell Whitfield, Redman Maxfield, Ron Silver, Stephen Mailer, Tom Wright, Uta Hagen

Director: Barbet Schroeder

One of the best, twistiest con movies in recent memory. Seasoned con artist Marcos takes young Juan under his wing after witnessing him pull a bill-switching scam in a deli. Soon Juan is learning the game and the two are roped into trying to pull off the largest scam in Marcos’ storied career, the selling of a set of incredibly rare stamps (the “nine queens” of the title). Along the way they will have to deal with a rotating cast of schemers, thieves, crooks -- and Marcos’ estranged sister. A superior little crime thriller, this one will have you guessing right up until the end.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alejandro Awada, Antonio Ugo, Carlos Lanari, Claudio Rissi, Elsa Berenguer, Ernesto Arias, Gabo Correa, Gabriel Molinelli, Gastón Pauls, Graciela Tenenbaum, Ignasi Abadal, Jorge Noya, Leo Dyzen, Leticia Brédice, Maria Mercedes Villagra, Oscar Nunez, Pochi Ducasse, Ricardo Darín, Ricardo Diaz Mourelle, Roberto Rey, Roly Serrano, Tomas Fonzi

Director: Fabián Bielinsky

Rating: R