A John Sayles film, not to be confused with (much less to eclipse) the same-named Vietnam-era soap opera about POW wives, directed by Mark Robson. This one starts out with the standard Sayles pitch, strong on human interest, supported by sociological and geographical interest, and delivered with the familiar blend of warmth, liberalism, and narrative naiveté. The characters are credible, most centrally the laconic handyman (alias "Mr. Dark and Moody") in the employ of two prosperous lesbians in sparsest Alaska (alias "America's Last Frontier"), and a Judy Collins-y saloon singer and single mom to an experimentally self-mutilating teenage girl. The developing relationships, especially that of handyman and singer, are no less credible. But the sharp turn, past the halfway point, into the territory of Deliverance and River Wild, with our central trio hiding out from murderous drug smugglers in the wilderness, loses almost all contact with credibility. Sayles, who tends to get by on goodwill, gambles his entire pile of it on the Lady-or-the-Tiger ending. You can just about see (or imagine) the point of it: withholding a conventional resolution in order to refocus attention on the bonding of the people, the forming of a family unit, the facing of the future together, come what may. But this point, if in fact it's the point, could have been made without a detour into the life-and-death rhetoric of an adventure-thriller. It could have been made, that is to say, more subtly and less bone-crackingly. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, David Strathairn, Vanessa Martinez, Kris Kristofferson. (1999) — Duncan Shepherd
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