An indie icon during the 1980s and 90s, writer-director-editor John Sayles has been sliding artistically for the past decade, with such unpersuasive efforts as Casa de los Babys
(2003), Silver City
(2004), and Honeydripper
(2007). This historical drama, set in 1900 during the Philippine-American War, is the best thing I’ve seen out of him since Lone Star
(1996), though its leisurely 128-minute running time supports my contention that his editing of his own films has always been his Achilles' heel. The story involves a squad of U.S. troops who invade a remote farming village in hope of shutting down the guerrillas in the surrounding forest; caught between these two sides is the peaceable leader of the village (Filipino star Joel Torre), whose brother is fighting with the rebels. The cruel imperialism of the war is just the sort of thing that stokes Sayles's liberal ire, which is one reason the movie so often recalls his proletarian masterpiece Matewan
(1987). With Chris Cooper and Garret Dillahunt. In English and subtitled Spanish.