Physicist Albert Einstein was once asked, "What's the most important question you can ask in life?" He replied, "Is the universe a friendly place or not?" In writer and director John Sayles's latest film, the open-ended finale gives you a chance to decide for yourself the answer to that poignant query.
The drama is set in the small town of Port Henry, Alaska, where tourism is the only business now that the timber mill and the salmon cannery have shut down. The two main characters are Joe Gastineau (David Strathairn), a moody handyman who is drenched in guilt over his role in the death of two people in a disaster aboard his boat, and Donna De Angelo (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a lounge singer who has dated a string of losers. He asks her and her troubled daughter Noelle (Vanessa Martinez) to join him on an outing on his boat. But some nasty business with his half-brother Bobby (Casey Siemaszko) strands the three of them on a deserted island in the wilds of Alaska.
This limbo they inhabit is a place of confinement, where they linger with the regrets of the life they've known and the very real possibility of death. They find a little shelter and forage for food in the woods and sea. But they each know that the chances of their being rescued are quite slim. This grim situation enables them to deal with the unfinished emotional business of their lives. Hobbled by fear, they inch their way toward the healing power of love, forgiveness, and mutual caring.
John Sayles continues to be one of America's most adventuresome filmmakers. Once again, he challenges us to explore the complexity of the human soul and the mystery of fate. Our destinies, we realize, hinge on the meaning we bring to every moment of our lives.