Dennis suggests Sunshine State (in Feature Drama). Hero worship alert! I’ve got a serious case of objectivity-lack when it comes to John Sayles; he is, with the passing of Robert Altman, the conscience of American independent film. He writes, directs, and edits his films, he’s gathered a core ensemble of talented actors (David Strathairn, Chris Cooper, Joe Morton, Bill Cobbs, others), he has a social
conscience and generally avoids preachiness while at the same time creating a rich, humanist world in his films, he works outside the studio system, raising money for his indie masterpieces by doing script doctoring on Hollywood mega-productions. His best films (Lone Star, The Brother From Another Planet, Eight Men Out, Matewan) rank among the best American films of the last twenty years, and the rest are simply great movies. Sunshine State is one of his lesser films, which makes it one of the best films of 2002. A multicharacter tale of the denizens of a dying Florida resort town and the people who live there and don’t want to, who want to move in and turn it into a plastic, Wal-Mart-ed hell-hole, and those caught in the middle. Sayles makes his usual points (this time about commercialism, political corruption, and exploitation) with traditional aplomb, but it’s the performances that really make the film this time around. There’s Cobbs (a veteran character actor you’ll recognize from about a million things) who brings his own natural charisma and gravitas to the role of the aged community activist trying vainly to rally people against the box store encroachment. There’s Timothy Hutton (much better now that his leading man career isn’t happening) as the hunkily pleasant lackey of the corporate invaders, playing the befuddled conflict of an essentially blank guy with touching subtlety. And then there are the two women of the piece, two great actresses who, as is usual in a Sayles film, obviously relish the opportunity to sink their choppers into well written female roles, and turn in a pair of beautifully realized performances. Angela Bassett, as the former “bad girl” returning to town after years away, coping with her
own conflicted feelings about her home, and her mother, gets to play smart, sexy, and sad, as only she can, while Edie Falco is a revelation as the “good girl” who never escaped her home town or her father’s motel, and finds herself in a storm of conflicted loyalties and emotions. Look, I love Falco as Carmella Soprano, but it’s a role whose scope is limited, and, seeing her inhabit this sad, lonely, essentially decent woman in crisis will make “Sopranos” fans appreciate her even more. Remember, lesser John Sayles is better than 90% of the movies on Videoport’s shelves. So there.