You Can Count On Me (15)

Film image
Ken Lonergan

The ViewLondon Review

Review byMatthew Turner22/03/2001

5 stars out of 5
Running time: 109 mins

Superbly-written, wonderfully-acted drama that is refreshingly free from Hollywood-esque clichés – one of the best films of the year.

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan is an established U.S playwright with one or two high-profile screenwriting credits to his name (notably Analyze This), and here he makes his directorial debut with You Can Count On Me.

With that knowledge you might expect the film to be overly talky and stagey but nothing could be further than the truth. Lonergan’s background may be in the theatre, but he reveals a gift for capturing truthful, human moments on film through a combination of subtle performances and his masterful less-is-more script.

The story is very simple. Samantha ‘Sammy’ Prescott (Laura Linney) is a single mother, living in upstate New York with her eight year-old son Rudy (Rory Culkin, brother of Macauley) and working at the local bank. Terry Prescott (stage actor Mark Ruffalo) is Sammy’s ne’er-do-well brother – the film’s prologue shows a tragic incident that left the kids orphaned, leaving them to bring each other up – and he comes back into town after a characteristically long absence, primarily to ask Sammy for money.

However, Rudy is lonely, and soon starts to bond with Terry, finding in him the father he’s never had. Meanwhile, Sammy breaks up with her nice-but-dull boyfriend and begins an affair with her new boss at the bank, played by Matthew Broderick.

It’s true, then, that as far as the plot is concerned, this is a film in which not much happens – the most dramatic scene occurs when Terry takes Rudy to meet his no-good father, with predictable consequences. However, this is emphatically NOT a movie about people solving their problems and living happily ever after, but rather a film about real people who make mistakes, who frustrate, hurt and love each other in equal measure.

It’s entirely to Lonergan’s credit that he refuses to resolve any of their problems and completely resists the Hollywood-style sugar-drenched resolutions we’ve seen time and time again. To illustrate this, no-one actually says the title of the film, and yet there’s a wordless hug in the movie that makes that point ten times over. Similarly, there are no directorial flourishes, with Lonergan content to sit back and let his actors tell the story.

The acting is absolutely fantastic: Linney’s Oscar nomination is well-deserved and it’s only a pity that she’s up against The Mighty Julia Roberts this year, or she would probably have won. She makes Sammy a totally believable character, and fills her every glance with meaning – one exasperated look at her brother is enough to tell you everything you need to know about their history together.

Ruffalo, too, is wonderful, and his performance has drawn comparisons with a young Marlon Brando (there’s even a slight physical resemblance). The guilty-little-brother look on his face when Sammy catches him and Rudy (after he’s taken the boy out to a bar to play pool) is just one of many wonderful moments in the movie. There’s great support too, particularly from Broderick (like Ruffalo, a close friend of Lonergan’s) as her slimy, officious boss – their scenes together speak volumes about office politics. There are some nice throwaway touches, too, such as the bank employee who likes to use gaudy colours on her computer monitor. Lonergan himself also plays a minor role, as the priest Sammy goes to for advice.

In short, then, this is definitely one of the best films of the year, and Lonergan has a very good chance of picking up the Best Original Screenplay Oscar on March 25th. Terrific acting, a wonderful script and a film that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. What are you waiting for? Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

You Can Count On Me (15)
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Content updated: 22/07/2018 17:28

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