Writer-director John Sayles may never receive the acclaim and adulation that's been heaped on the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the Coens, and yet this independent film-maker is currently one of America's finest directors.
With films like City Of Hope, Lone Star, Passion Fish and Men With Guns, Sayles has fashioned an impressively diverse body of work. Blending the personal and the political, he tells absorbing stories which examine the very fabric of American society - and the good news is that Limbo, which unusually for Sayles was financed by a major studio, is perhaps his riskiest work to date.
The opening half-hour is quintessential Sayles, as the characters in the remote Alaskan community are sketched out with humour and precision, and the distinctive sense of place is firmly established. Aside from Joe, Donna and Noelle, there's also the recently arrived lesbian couple (Kathryn Grody and Rita Taggart) who run the travel lodge, and the pilot-cum-lothario Smilin' Jack (Kristofferson). It's a community caught in transition - - the salmon canning plant is following the way of the wood mill into oblivion, and property developers want to turn the area into a theme park for wealthy tourists.
But having traced the gradual romance between Joe and Donna, Sayles then changes tack completely. Suddenly Limbo becomes a tale of desperate survival, with the three central characters adrift on an inhospitable island and facing the horrifying prospect that there may not be any rescuers. Avoiding the usual people-stranded-in-the-wilds histrionics (no killer bears or savage natives here), the film proceeds to probe at the fraying relationships between the marooned trio.
Limbo includes superb acting from Strathairn and Mastrantonio (who proves a highly accomplished lounge-bar singer) and confident shooting from cinematographer Haskell Wexler. It also concerns itself with the risks, both emotional and physical, that people may have to take when they move forward in their lives. And with a boldly open-ended resolution, it should provoke some heated reactions.
Another impressive effort from John Sayles, upturning audience expectations, as a portrait of a modern Alaskan community becomes a fight for survival. First-rate performances from Strathairn/ Mastrantonio, and an ending of immense audacity.