The dynamics of sibling relationships often make for intriguing and
fascinating stories and playwright-turned filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan
has mined just such a bond in his debut
Sammy and Terry were orphaned at a young age and basically were
raised to depend on one another. After they became adults, Sammy
became a single mother, juggling the demands of work and family
while Terry turned into a drifter. They are bonded by blood and ties of
love so when Terry returns to their hometown after several years,
Sammy is more than just glad to see him. When he decides to hang
around a while, it seems like a great idea at first, but gradually
familiarity does breed contempt.

Ever since it debuted at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival,
has generated great buzz, and in this case, it is
entirely worthy. Lonergan (who contributed the original idea for
ANALYZE THIS and who wrote the dud THE ADVENTURES OF
) makes an auspicious directorial debut.
There are occasional dead moments when he fails to fully shape a
scene by allowing the camera to linger a bit too long (as if he were
photographing a play), but in general his handling of the actors is
exemplary. This is a rare instance when the material is so strong and
the acting of such a high caliber that the film does not feel like the
work of a novice.

Laura Linney is superb as Sammy, turning in one of her richest
performances to date. The detail and shading in her characterization
makes Sammy a fully-rounded character. Matching her in every way is
stage actor Mark Ruffalo who here emerges as a full-fledged movie
star. With his dark good looks and brooding presence, the actor
comes off as a cross between a young Marlon
Brando crossed with
Harry Hamlin. His Terry is at once irritating and immature yet wise
and compelling. He and Linney are believable as siblings with a
shared heritage and language.

There are also fine supporting performances from Matthew Broderick
as an officious bank manager who could be a sibling to his Election
character and Rory Culkin as Linney's wise-before-his-time son.
Broderick provides comic relief as the finicky and overly particular boss
with whom Sammy eventually begins an ill-fated affair. Culkin, the
younger brother of Macauley and Kieran, is the perfect argument that
talent must be genetic, Whether sharing scenes with Linney or
Ruffalo, Culkin manages to hold his own. Lonergan himself turns up
and nearly steals every scene he's in as a local minister that Sammy
turns to for spiritual guidance and Jon Tenney does yeoman work as
Linney's long-suffering beau.

YOU CAN COUNT ON ME has an extremely literate script that
doesn't rely on clichés or happy endings; the characters and their lives
are messy and complicated. Sammy and Terry may or may not have
learned anything from their time together (one suspects Terry will
continue to go on making the same mistakes in his life) but
unquestionably, they have effected one another and, more
importantly, the audience. Despite its rather uninspired visual look,
YOU CAN COUNT ON ME ranks as a pleasure, thanks to its talented
cast and wonderful screenplay.

Rating:                 A-
MPAA Rating:        R for language, some drug use
                                                    and a scene of sexuality
Running time:       111 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.