by Elaine Perrone
Having been lucky enough to see this John Sayles/Haskell Wexler gem on its original release, I wondered if it would hold up on the small screen. Foolish me. What little is lost from Wexler's portrait of a breathtakingly beautiful but cold Alaska is more than compensated by Sayles' crackling good yarn, which, in its intimacy, benefits greatly in translation to DVD.Starting out in its usual sprawl of Sayles characters -- in this case, the diverse inhabitants of Port Henry, Alaska , a small town in the throes of cultural change and economic decline -- Limbo in its essence is an absorbing study of three complex characters stranded in "limbos" of their own making: Donna De Angelo (the sublime Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a down-at-the-heels lounge singer, the eternal optimist perpetually doomed by her own crappy choices; her daughter, Noelle (Vanessa Martinez), a lonely, alienated girl who finds solace in self-mutilation and storytelling; and fisherman-turned-handyman Joe Gastineau (David Strathairn), a good man seemingly fated to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Revisiting an old friend can be heaven or hell. In this case, it was Limbo."
Haunted by a fatal boating accident in which two friends were killed, Joe has long since given up professional fishing, but when his half-brother (Casey Siemaszko), a big city boy with a line of bullshit, asks him to help crew a sailboat, he agrees. Hoping to bond with his new lover, Donna, and her daughter, he invites the two women along, unaware that the three of them will be placed in grave danger at the hands of his brother's "business partners," whose business, it turns out, is trafficking drugs.
After a violent encounter on the boat, the three find themselves swimming for their lives toward shore. Ending up on a deserted island, they fight to survive, knowing they have little chance of ever being rescued. As they struggle to stay warm, dry, and sane in a deserted trappers' cabin, Donna, Joe, and Noelle come to know each other, and themselves, and we the audience come to care deeply about each of them and their plight.Whether you love or hate the shockingly abrupt lady-or-the-tiger ending (it moved me to tears!), Limbo is one hell of a ride -- Sayles and Wexler at their collaborative best.
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originally posted: 08/02/04 00:36:51