Limbo (1999 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Sayles|
|Produced by||Maggie Renzi|
|Written by||John Sayles|
|Starring||Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
|Music by||Mason Daring|
|Editing by||John Sayles|
|Distributed by||Screen Gems|
|Release date(s)||May 22, 1999|
|Running time||126 minutes|
Limbo is a 1999 drama film written, produced, edited, and directed by American independent filmmaker John Sayles. The drama features Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, David Strathairn, Vanessa Martinez and Kris Kristofferson.
The film is set in fictional Port Henry, Alaska, a town undergoing stress as the local economy switches from an industrial one based around the canning and paper industries towards a tourism and leisure based model. Joe Gastineaux (David Strathairn) is a former high school basketball star and fisherman who quit fishing after some undisclosed tragedy. He now works as a handyman, particularly for Frannie and Lou, a lesbian couple who own the local resort hotel. Joe is friends with teenager Noelle De Angelo (Vanessa Martinez) who also works for Frankie and Lou. At an event which they are working, Noelle's mother Donna (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a lounge singer, breaks up with her live in boyfriend and asks Joe for help in moving. The two of them become close and eventually begin a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, Joe gets the chance to return to fishing when Frankie and Lou ask him to work a fishing boat which they have acquired as collateral from local fisherman Harmon. Donna has a strained relationship with her daughter Noelle, due mainly to Noelle's disapproval of her mother's peripatetic bohemian lifestyle. This is exacerbated when Donna begins dating Joe, who Noelle had had a crush on. At a bar Donna overhears the story of why Joe quit fishing: he had been involved in a deadly sinking which claimed the lives of all of his boatmates, including the brother of local bush pilot and small time criminal "Smilin Jack" Johannson (Kris Kristofferson).
Things change when Joe's dissolute half-brother Bobby shows up. He asks Joe to help crew his boat to pick up a client. Joe brings along Donna and Noelle. They dock for the night in an isolated bay and Bobby reveals the truth: Bobby had been involved in marijuana smuggling and had dumped a load overboard when he was spooked by the police. Now they are going to meet Bobby's partners to settle up his debt. That night, men sneak onto the boat and kill Bobby. Joe, Donna and Noelle flee to a nearby island where the men begin to hunt them. They take shelter in an abandoned cabin and try to survive as they wait for rescue. As they do they grow closer and Noelle finds a diary written by a teenage girl who had lived in the cabin with her family. She spends the nights reading the diary to Joe and Donna. Eventually Donna looks at the diary and discovers that most of it is blank. Noelle had made up most of its contents, expressing her own feelings through the diary. After a week and a half a sea plane sees their signal fire and lands. It's piloted by Smilin Jack Johannson, who explains that his radio is busted and that he doesn't have enough fuel to fly any of them out. He privately tells Joe that he was hired by a couple of men to look around and find three people roughing it. When informed about the murder of Bobby he expresses sympathy and promises to return tomorrow with a full tank and rescue them. Joe, who does not trust Smilin Jack, remains unsure of whether his return will bring rescue or the men who seek to kill them. The next morning Joe, Donna, and Noelle gather on the beach as Smilin Jack's plane flies towards them.
- Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Donna De Angelo
- David Strathairn as "Jumpin Joe" Gastineau
- Vanessa Martinez as Noelle De Angelo
- Hermínio Ramos as Ricky
- Kris Kristofferson as "Smilin Jack" Johannson
- Dawn McInturff as Audrey
- Casey Siemaszko as Bobby Gastineau
- Kathryn Grody as Frankie
- Tom Biss as Baines
- Rita Taggart as Lou
- Leo Burmester as Harmon King
- Michael Laskin as Albright
- Jimmy MacDonell as Randy Mason
- Mérit Carlson-van Dort as Stacy
- Monica Brandner as Corky
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio performed four of the nine songs on the soundtrack, which also features "Lift Me Up", an original song by Bruce Springsteen.
Critical reception 
Limbo received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that the film has a 72% fresh rating, based on 39 reviews. Roger Ebert lauded the film and its story structure, writing, "What I liked so much about this story structure is that it confounded my expectations at every step. I expected the story to stay in Juneau, but it didn't. When it took a turn toward adventure, I thought the threat would come from nature—but it comes from men. After the three characters are stranded, I expected—I don't know what, maybe Swiss Family Robinson-style improvisation. But Sayles gradually reveals his buried theme, which is that in a place like the Alaskan wilderness you can never be sure what will happen next. And that optimism, bravery and ingenuity may not be enough." Christopher Null lambasted the ending, writing, "I can forgive many things. But using some hackneyed, whacked-out, screwed-up non-ending on a movie is unforgivable. I walked a half-mile in the rain and sat through two hours of typical, plodding Sayles melodrama to get cheated by a complete and total copout finale."
- Seattle International Film Festival: Golden Space Needle Award; Best Director, John Sayles; 1999.
- National Board of Review: Special Recognition, for excellence in filmmaking; 1999.
- Cannes Film Festival: Palme d'Or, John Sayles; 1999.
- Independent Spirit Awards: Independent Spirit Award; Best Male Lead, David Strathairn, Best Supporting Female, Vanessa Martinez; 2000.
- Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards: Sierra Award; Best Actress, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio; 2000.
See also 
- Gerry Molyneaux, "John Sayles, Renaissance Books, 2000 p 252
- Box Office Mojo web site.
- Limbo at the Internet Movie Database.
- Limbo (1999 film) at Rotten Tomatoes
- Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, June 4, 1999. Last accessed: January 28, 2008.
- Null, Christopher (1999). "Limbo". AMC. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
- "Festival de Cannes: Limbo". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
- Limbo at the Internet Movie Database
- Limbo screenplay at Script-O-Rama
- "Limbo: Frustrated Narration" Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, Issue 1, 2010