Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999


by Richard Schwartz

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John Sayles is certainly gusty. The writer-director made his mark by taking plenty of risks when selecting his subject matter and setting, which have most recently dealt with tribal warfare in the Central American jungles, race conflicts along the Texas-Mexico border, and now lonely hearts in the wilderness of northern Alaska.

In typical Sayles fashion, the plot begins as an examination of small-town Alaska life, territory rarely mined in feature films, but soon transforms into something completely different, a suspense tale of man's survival among the elements. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio stars as Donna, a frustrated bar singer who thinks her troubled love life has taken a turn when she meets a quiet ex-fisherman named Joe, played in believeable simplicity by David Strathairn. Soon, Donna and her daughter join Joe on a fishing expedition, but things go terribly wrong when Joe's half-brother turns up and reveals he is the target of killers after a drug deal gone bad.

With "Limbo," Sayles again displays his artistic bravado but in a new sort of way. Without giving too much of the film's plot away, "Limbo"'s advertising slogan - "a condition of unknowable outcome" - is right on the money. So accurate, in fact, and so very literal, that some viewers may leave frustrated, as did those at a recent screening who were heard to curse at the screen as the credits rolled. But that is truly gutsy, however, and that is Sayles.

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