Limbo Review

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Unconventional narrative about the interactions of a group of people in a small town in Alaska, each of whom guards a secret.


You know where you stand with John Sayles: watertight scriptwriting, real emphasis on character, vivid localities and a nonchalant ease in delivering smart stories without fuss. The man is like a top-of-the-range Volvo: reliablity with air conditioning and electric windows. Until now, that is - shockingly, Limbo is his first vehicle to stall in the driveway.

A strangely unengaging drama, the film is built around broken people reestablishing their lives in a forgotten corner of Alaska, before dramatic contrivance forces them into the titular state of purgatory. There's no doubting the solidness of the performances. David Strathairn does his polished internalised-bloke routine as the washed-up fisherman Joe Gastineau. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio beautifully delivers herself back from her own state of career limbo, as hopeless-at-relationships crooner Donna De Angelo, who is dragging her diffident daughter Noelle (Vanessa Martinez) from pillar to post. They hook up. The film slips leisurely into mature love story mould.

But Sayles is seeking much more than the minutae of ordinary people in a sophisticate's Northern Exposure; looking to deliver some dreadfully clever philosophical study of the forces of hiatus and indecision, the film stumbles by artless contrivance into its disaster movie second half. Utilising a mucked up drug trade (involving Joe's goon of a brother, played by Casey Siemaszko) as a device, Joe, Donna and Noelle are stranded on a remote island with no food, warmth and only two pairs of shoes. Will they be rescued? Will Joe and Donna's bonding survive the travail? Will we ever find out? Limbo, you see, applies to the audience as much as the imperiled threesome.

You've got to admire a director willing to play silly-buggers with Hollywood conditioning, but his intentions this time are just too off keel to work.

Despite its stark beauty dull ruminations freeze out the characters, the drama feels awkward and listless and you are left cold by the lack of immediacy.