Sunshine State

The film's ending will delight social anthropologists, and parents lose their grip on tradition,...

Ever the social realist and humanist, John Sayles ("Lone Star," "Matewan," for example) in "Sunshine State" has his most-balanced treatment today on the impact of time, history, and environment on the evolution of human habitation.

Specifically, development on Florida's east coast. In a fictional area south of Jacksonville, whites and blacks are relatively harmonious; their common challenge is the developer, who wants Edie Falco's aging restaurant and Angela Bassett's family home. Sayles, less strident than in his younger years, allows both sides to weigh in on their motives. For example, tired of the restaurant, Falco may be ready without coercion to sell to the developers. Bassett's mom, a conservationist, sees a possibility of dollars for her bird sanctuary if developers win. Sayles hints that as everyone ages, new issues and needs evolve, not always related to racism or greed.

Timothy Hutton's role is pivotal in this new-age approach: as architect for the developers, he is not adamant about moving people off their properties but rather looks at himself as an employee doing his job with conscience. His brief affair with Edie Falco figuratively shows the tenuous relationship between development and humanism.

History has made its presence felt. The film's ending will delight social anthropologists, and parents lose their grip on tradition, best expressed in their seedy beach home and run-down restaurant. Sayles does not, however, go softly when it comes to the big-shot developers, headed by Alan King, who says, "We created this nature on a leash." They spin platitudes about Indians and nature while they play golf far from the effects of momentous decisions parents and children make about their homes, their environment, and their personal legacies.

As Flash, a character caught in between the two worlds says, "There's a handful of people who run the whole deal, and the rest of us who do what they say and get paid for it." Sayles has forsaken villains for social evolution of a sober and thoughtful kind.