Limbo [1999]

There are three unforgettable characters in John Sayles's contemporary adventure-drama set in Alaska. They are never seen but live only in a frontier diary found by teenager Noelle De Angelo (Vanessa Martinez). The life of the diary's narrator is much like everything in this movie: hanging in limbo. The first half of the film focuses on why men and woman turn to Alaska, a land still ripe with opportunity. A small town is at a crossroads, with its pulp mill and canning factory closed and new investors seeing different directions in which to take the area (one even boasts the state is the ultimate theme park). A local (Sayles regular David Strathairn) is just escaping his past, taking up commercial fishing again. He attracts a traveling nightclub singer (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in her best role in years) who struggles daily with her daughter Noelle. Like any good theme park, Limbo presents the threesome with an unexpected adventure. In the wilderness, the three relative strangers learn more about themselves than was ever possible in town. Sayles's usual craftsmanship creates a singular blend of drama and suspense with an ending designed to ruffle feathers. Not as accessible as his breakthrough hit Lone Star, Limbo is nevertheless a hearty film from one of America's best storytellers. --Doug Thomas

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