Directed by John Sayles, starring Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, Jane Alexander, Mary Alice, James McDaniel, Mary Steenburgen, Ralph Waite, Alan King, Bill Cobbs

Set on the fictional island of Delrona Beach, Florida, John Sayle's 'Sunshine State' is a compelling and thought-provoking meditation on the survival of the human spirit in a relentlessly commercial world. A traditional beachside community - half black, half white - is under pressure from encroaching real estate developers who want to develop the area. Sayles personifies the political through the perspectives of two grown-up daughters from the locality.

Desiree (Bassett) is making her first trip home since she left in disgrace as a pregnant 15-year-old. Back with her anaesthesiologist husband Reggie and an over-developed chip on her shoulder, Desiree is determined not to be dragged back into the black Delrona Beach enclave. Marly (a star-making performance from 'The Sopranos' Falco), on the other hand, can't leave. Drowning in a sea of alcohol, family obligations and aimless sexual encounters, she's managing her father's hated motel, fending off developers who are determined to buy her out and sleeping with any man who looks half-way interesting.

Desiree and Marly are the centre points of 'Sunshine State' but they're surrounded by an outstanding ensemble cast who people this self-contained world. Marly's father Furman (Waite), blinded by diabetes, harks back to past glories and prejudices - a role paralleled in the black community by the fiery Dr Lloyd (Cobbs) - fighting a fierce battle against the changes in the area and reminiscing about its heyday. We also meet a troubled pyromaniac teenager taken in by Desiree's mother, a suicidal bank manager beset with gambling debts and his tradition-inventing wife, a former football star trying to edge his way back in to the locality and the landscape architect, an outsider and threat, who romances Marly. And, a running commentary on the changing landscape comes from an incongruous Greek chorus of bermuda-shorted golfers.

Working upon this broad canvas, Sayles gradually fleshes out the characters and the story. One of America's most respected independent filmmakers, his literary background is evident in his approach to characterisation and love of dialogue. Although the narrative occasionally wanders down blind alleys and the slow pace can initially grate, this is a rich portrait of dislocation and despair in the dystopia of the Florida marshlands.

Great storytelling of a kind not often seen in the cinema.

Caroline Hennessy