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MRQE Top Critic

Straight To Hell Returns

Post-Repo Man cult favorite returns with improved special effects —John Adams (review...)

Alex Cox returns... Straight to Hell

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Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo star in this solid drama from new director Kenneth Lonergan. You Can Count On Me was discovered at Sundance (and other film festivals), and rightfully so. Like The Tao of Steve, it is a simple, low-budget film that succeeds because of a great script and good performances.

Sammy, Terry, and Rudy

Lonergan's strong debutSammy (Linney) is raising her son alone. She was orphaned when she was her son’s age, and his father is out of the picture, so she’s trying extra hard to be a good mother. The film opens when her brother Terry (Ruffalo) shows up in town for a few days.

Terry is a drifter and a screw-up and he makes you want to shake him and say “get a job.” At the same time, he generates sympathy. Once you get to know Terry, you see there’s more to him than his outer shell. There’s a thinking, hurting human being inside. Ruffalo gives Terry a soul.

Terry grows more sympathetic as he connects with Sammy’s son Rudy (Rory Culkin). Terry is not quite a father figure for Rudy, but he’s a friend and he’s always there. Even when he pushes the envelope of child rearing, he’s good for the boy. In fact, they’re good for each other, as Rudy gives Terry a reason to be responsible.

Sibling Rivalry

It’s an inspired idea to make a movie about a brother and sister, because that’s a relationship different from any other. Siblings fight in a way that husbands and wives don’t, and yet they keep coming back, they can’t just back out on their relationship. Marriages may go sour and friends outgrow friends, but siblings are tied together more or less forever.

Sammy and Terry each had a tough childhood, but they have handled it differently. Where Sammy puts it behind her, embracing structure and stability, Terry acknowledges the pain of his childhood and sees little point in trying to play along with this world that has cheated him.

A few main conflicts arise touching on money, trust, respect, and love. About three peaks and valleys in the emotional sine wave of their lives is enough to really get to know and like these siblings, through good and bad.

Strong Debut

Lonergan writes and directs, and he excels at both. As screenwriter, he provides a solid script and characters from the beginning. As director, he knows which scenes are important and what’s important about them.

In one scene, Sammy and Terry are gazing at the stars. Lonergan as screenwriter creates a believable intimate conversation between brother and sister. Lonergan as director uses a medium shot, making the figures smaller and pushing them closer together; emotionally, they seem to be going back to childhood.

The movie is good, then, both scene-by-scene and as a whole. It’s a remarkable debut effort from Lonergan. You Can Count on Me has a solid foundation of a good script — the actors have interesting things to say and do. Linney and Ruffalo help Lonergan by saying and doing those things with warmth and emotional depth.