It's really unfortunate that, after a several-year long high, independent films really have begun to struggle lately, overshadowed again by multiplex fare, with only a few exceptions. One of those bright spots, "You Can Count On Me", is a wonderful little film that was rightly recognized at awards time with several richly deserved nominations.
Director Kenneth Lonnergan, formerly known as the writer of more comedic fare like "Analyze This" and "Adventures Of Rocky and Bullwinkle" takes on drama here, and does a terrific job following and filling out several well-written characters. The main relationship in the film is between a brother and sister, Terry and Sammy (Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney). The two were orphaned after a tragic incident as children and were forced to raise one another and help each other through the hard times.
Years later, Sammy is raising an 8-year old boy named Rudy. A loving mother, she does the best that she can by herself to raise the child, finding a job and being there for the boy. One day, after not hearing from him for ages, Terry announces that he's coming in for a visit. Sammy is thrilled and it's obvious that the two are important to one another. Sitting down for lunch, Terry announces that he's there mainly because he needs money, again. It's a really impressive moment of acting by Linney, who travels down several emotions within the moments, going from elated to see her brother to having sadness wash over her face.
Things calm down though, and Terry stays to spend more time with his nephew and sister. Meanwhile, Sammy isn't having an easy time at work, as her boss Brian(Matthew Broderick) won't let her go to pick up her son for 15 minutes each day, nor does he want her to do the paperwork at their bank office in any way but his own, even if it's not the most efficent. After a series of events though, she finds herself having an affair with her boss. At the same time, Terry is taking Rudy to play pool at bars (at which Rudy says "I don't think there are any kids here."), and she's concerned that he's not exactly the best role model.
For those expecting a usual Hollywood drama out of "You Can Count On Me", you will likely be rather dissapointed. In a movie like this, you would think that A.) the kid will run away, B.) someone will get ill or something similar. None of that happens, although there are some dramatic moments. The movie is realistic in terms of what happens to the characters and their dialogue. It's also filmed in a realistic manner, with no major camera movement. The camera essentially is "us", letting the viewer sit in on the conversations.
Performances are across-the-board terrific, especially Ruffalo and Linney in the leads. Linney is especially a wonder, with a wide range of realistic emotions and some more subtle moments that are really enjoyable to see.
It's a terrific first film from Lonnergan, who has really brought out great performances here from his actors and provided them with a fine screenplay to work with.
VIDEO: Although Paramount has generally done fine work in the past in regards to image quality, I've caught signs with recent releases that they've been trying to improve their already pleasing efforts. "Save The Last Dance" was quite a fine piece of work and now, "You Can Count On Me" also presents strong image quality. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the image quality throughout is quite "film-like". The film doesn't reach that kind of sharpness that has every little detail visible, but at the same time, the picture isn't soft, either. It reaches a good middle ground that has the picture looking smooth and natural.
The only element that keeps this from being the best that it can be is the occasional print flaw. Nothing terribly major, but an infrequent speckle or two does pop up. I noticed nothing in the way of pixelation or edge enhancemnet for a pleasing, crisp and clean image throughout. The house where most of the movie takes place is also nicely presented, with the shadows and light in the house translating nicely to the DVD presentation.
Colors looked stellar throughout, well-saturated and bright, never looking smeared or otherwise problematic. Overall, this is really good work and except for the small print flaws, looks great.
SOUND: "You Can Count On Me" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and, with a very small drama like this one, the expectations about sound use are pretty minimal. The Paramount Classics logo trailer before the movie, with its light, lovely backing score, provides one of the more active audio moments of the film.
Surrounds are not used for the majority of the film, remaining quiet except for some music and very light ambient sounds that are almost unnoticable. The bar scene where Terry and Rudy play pool provides a hard-rock tune that fills the room nicely and provides some power, but it's one of the rare moments of more agressive audio use in the picture. Lesley Barber's elegant and beautiful score, which I'm suprised didn't get any awards notice, flows with exceptional clarity from the front speakers. Lastly, dialogue sounded clear and natural.
MENUS:: I was pleased and suprised to see a very lovely animated main menu by Paramount, with film-themed images and the score in the background. It's a subtle, very well-done introduction to the movie.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Kenneth Longergan. The director provides a relaxed, informative commentary that sheds further light behind-the-scenes on the intentions and actions of the characters as well as the performances of his leads. Also being a friend of Matthew Broderick, he also talks about what it was like to direct his friend on this, his first picture. The commentary does get slightly slow at points with some slight pauses of silence, but every so often, Lonnergan really provides an interesting viewpoint about what it was like to make a movie that was very realistic and character-driven, something that it really not in fashion. Overall, it's a good track worth a listen.
A Look Inside: As with Paramounts interviews for "Save The Last Dance", the studio seems to be attempting to make this "interviews" section more substancial and informative rather than simply "it was so nice to work with such and such actor". Lonnergan discusses the birth of "You Can Count On Me" and what it was like working on his first film. Some of the actor interviews do begin to get into how wonderful they thought the material was (and it is, but I'd like to hear more about what it was like to achieve the kind of performances that were achieved). The feature runs about 11 1/2 minutes.
Also: Theatrical trailer.
Final Thoughts: "You Can Count On Me" is a marvelous drama with great performances from its cast. Paramount's DVD provides good audio/video quality and a couple of fine extras. Highly recommended!
The Film ****
Video 92/A = (368/400 possible points)
Audio: 87/B = (348/400 possible points)
Extras: 80/B- = (240/300 possible points)
Menus: 89/B+ = (178/200 possible points)
Value: 84/B = (252/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: B