Susan Granger’s review of “LIMBO” (Columbia Pictures)

John Sayles makes movies the way James Michener wrote books, traveling to fascinating places and placing imaginary characters amidst very real situations. Think of the intelligence and creativity of Sayles’ “Secret of Roan Inish,” “Lone Star,” “Matewan,” “Passion Fish,” and “Men with Guns.”

Alaska is America’s last frontier. Its vast expanse of rugged, untamed wilderness is both setting and antagonist in “Limbo,” the story of three isolated people who come together to face their own demons and to explore the very nature of emotional and physical risk Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays a tough, frustrated bar singer with a troubled, strong-willed teenage daughter, Vanessa Martinez. David Strathairn is a quiet, traumatized ex-fisherman-turned-handyman who invites them to join him for a weekend cruise which goes sour when his half-brother (Casey Siemaszko), who owns the boat, reveals he’s being pursued by killers after a drug deal went bad. Their lives, past and present, form the crux of the superbly crafted drama which places them in a life-threatening survival situation from which they may not successfully emerge, depending on the whim of a quixotic bush pilot (Kris Kristofferson). “Limbo” is John Sayles’ most unflinching, daringly original, and powerfully disturbing film, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s performance of bruising, heart-wrenching intensity is definitely Oscar-caliber. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Limbo” is a piercing, suspenseful 8. The ambiguity of its ending may be frustrating, but your reaction and subsequent conclusion reveal more about you than about the characters in the film. Remember, “limbo” is defined as “a condition of unknowable outcome.”

Susan Granger rates this movie 8 out of 10