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USA 2000
Directed by
Kenneth Lonergan
111 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

You Can Count On Me

Synopsis: Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry Prescott (Mark Ruffalo) are brother and sister whose parents died in car crash long ago. Now in their mid thirties, Sammy is a single mother to eight-year-old Rudy (Rory Culkin) and Terry has drifted around. When Terry re-appears in Sammy's life initially things look good but they soon start to unravel.

Epithets such as "charming", "heartwarming" and "engaging" will be deservedly attached to this very likeable, light-hearted family drama. The screenplay, by director Kenneth Lonergan, has won a swag of US awards equally deservedly - it's different (a brother-sister relationship at centre stage) without being contrived, it's snappy without being overtly clever, and yet it effectively creates the illusion of everydayness.

I say "illusion" because although it purports to portray the lives and loves of ordinary people, this is evidently a very well-crafted project (Martin Scorsese was one of the executive producers), that despite being much concerned with dysfunctionality, destructiveness, tragedy and other not-so-desirable things presents them in a very palatable, picture-perfect way (it makes an interesting pair with another "small-town America" picture around at the moment, David Mamet's State And Main).

Not only is the script a polished effort, its realisation, from the performances to the filmic style is also quietly sophisticated. Although Laura Linney has picked up quite a few Best Actress awards I found her technique a little mannered (it works well for her in House Of Mirth, also around at the moment) though she's undeniably watchable. Mark Ruffalo however, who some people have compared to a young Brando, is fabulous as the chronically diffident sociopathic brother. And kudos also should go to Rory Culken, perfect as Sammy's son and Matthew Broderick, who invests his unhappily married banker role with great believability.

Pace-wise, for all its sleepy town ambience, this kicks along at a fair lick, the editing is quiet fast, often using just a few feet of film to suggest a plot move or situation. In fact one of the great strengths of this film is its understated approach that lets the images speak for themselves (or in other words, allows the viewer to draw his or her own inferences).

It's a safe bet that virtually everyone will like this (a few of the bitter and twisted and all devotees of the bleeding obvious excepted) and if you're looking for something entertaining without being mainstream, intelligent without being self-consciously arthouse, this won't disappoint.




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