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For John Sayles, who made his bones as a novelist, an action scene is anything with more than two people in it. His films are resolutely verbal, full of sharp dialogue and invariably fine performances, and he's become increasingly skilled at rendering relationships among a large number of characters. When Sayles has a compelling story line he's one of America's finest (Matewan, Lone Star), but when he doesn't he can be dull and unfocused. Filling out the latter category is this 2002 ensemble drama about piracy, both personal and economic, on an island off the coast of northern Florida. Edie Falco plays the burned-out operator of a cheap hotel eyed by greedy developers as the “soft underbelly” of a historic black community. Its beach is now zealously guarded by an elderly doctor (Bill Cobbs in the film's strongest performance), who provides the hinge to a parallel story line in which a local bad girl (Angela Bassett) returns home with her clean-cut husband (James McDaniel) to rake over the past with her mother (Mary Alice, also excellent). With Timothy Hutton, Jane Alexander, Richard Edson, Ralph Waite, Gordon Clapp, and Mary Steenburgen. 141 min.

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