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The work of filmmaker John Sayles often focuses on regular people trapped in extraordinary circumstances, and Limbo is no exception. When an Alaskan handyman named Joe (David Strathairn) finds himself in love for the first time in years, he seems unsure how to proceed. The object of his affections, a charismatic bar singer named Donna DeAngelo (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), is equally perplexed — she's so used to dating abusive losers that she seems genuinely mystified by the kind, caring Joe. But not everyone approves of the budding romance: Donna's teenage daughter Noelle (an excellent Vanessa Martinez) has had a crush on the bewildered handyman for weeks and feels betrayed by her mother's interest in him. Given Sayles' considerable gifts for characterization and locale, it's no surprise that the story's first half, which focuses on the developing relationship between Joe and Donna, resonates with truth. Credit Sayles' brilliant dialogue and the first-rate performances by the cast for creating a set-up of unusual power. Somewhat less satisfying is the film's second half, which shifts the action to the Alaskan wilderness in a plot twist vaguely reminiscent of The Edge. Though Sayles never sacrifices characterization for the sake of adventure, these needless complications take the focus away from the heart of the story — Donna and Joe's relationship — and places it instead on a silly subplot involving drug money. But if Limbo lacks the epic sweep of Sayles' 1996 masterpiece Lone Star (which also features Martinez and Kris Kristofferson), this follow-up shares many of the same traits, including beautiful (often brilliant) photography, crisp dialogue, and one of the most daring endings in recent memory. Good widescreen transfer (1.85:1), DD 5.1 or Dolby Surround 2.0. The disc also features a fascinating commentary track with writer/director/editor Sayles, which is required listening for anyone even remotely interested in the filmmaking process.
—Joe Barlow

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