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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 59.08)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital Surround
    French, Dutch, English - Hearing Impaired
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Featurette
  • Animated menus

You Can Count On Me

Paramount Classics/Paramount . R4 . COLOR . 106 mins . M . PAL


Everything changes, but everything stays the same. The contemporary film world’s version of those old ‘40s black-and-white over-the-top tearjerkers, the genre we’ll call the Highly Personal Melodrama has been a staple of Hollywood over the last couple of decades. These are films that are concerned (theoretically, anyway) with the simple things of life - family, friends, home-town familiarity and cosy sentiment, all neatly tied up in a package that “will make you laugh… make you cry… make you want to embrace life”, to quote a few dozen identikit movie trailers. They’re targeted at those of middle age, almost defiantly stating “we get our own genre too, and look how damned nostalgic we can be if you let us”. They almost always involve a single mother at or near the centre of the story. There’s always a kid there too, but rarely more than one. The music score always features either slide guitar or banjo, and there’s at least one country and western song in there somewhere (usually played as the character walks into a diner or bar). Nobody shoots anybody, any sex scenes are defiantly discreet and soft-focussed, and the characters spend most of the film plodding their way through a script so weighted down with homespun philosophy you’d rather they just wore t-shirts that said “okay, gimme the Oscar already”.

Everything stays the same, but some things change. Writer Kenneth Lonergan had already made something of a name for himself in Hollywoodland before his directorial debut floored ‘em at Sundance. He’d co-written a box-office hit (Analyse This) and a well-intentioned flop (The Adventures Of Rocky and Bullwinkle) - both VERY broad comedies that gave not a hint about what the man could do given a few million dollars and the chance to write and direct on his own. Because You Can Count On Me is most certainly not a comedy - though there are some genuinely funny moments to be found along the way. Yes, this is one of those Highly Personal films, no doubt about it. But it’s a small story with a big difference - the characters. They’re realistic, warm, funny, flawed and absolutely believable, a rarity in this genre.

Samantha Prescott (Laura Linney) - “Sammy” to just about everyone in town - is living the life of a single parent in the small city of Scottsville (slogan: “A good place to live”) out in the midst of America. She lives in a fairly well-appointed house with her son Rudy (Rory Culkin), and has a nice job at the town’s bank. But her routine-centred life is suddenly turned upside down. She finds herself with a new boss at the bank in the form of the uptight Brian Everett (Matthew Broderick, who officially never ages) who immediately turns a friendly workplace into corporate hell. And her brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) comes to visit after not writing Sammy a letter for more than six months. Terry’s not in good shape, and when he first asks Sammy for money and then reveals the reason why he had vanished, she presses him to stay. Soon Terry has befriended her son Rudy and seems to have settled - but old habits are hard to break. Sammy, too, finds her long-repressed irresponsible side coming out; but unlike Terry, she has reasons to stay in Scottsville.

It all sounds very… ordinary, doesn’t it? And that’s the wonderful thing about this film; its characters do and feel the sort of stuff that real people might actually care about. In the space of an hour and a half you get to know these characters and actually like them, and that’s one of the hardest things to achieve on screen. In Lonergan’s hands it seems effortless, though, his writing wonderfully restrained and right on target emotionally. And he knows what not to say. This isn’t a film that insults your intelligence by leading you through every detail of the story - it assumes that you’re paying attention and can work the simple stuff out for yourself. On more than one occasion a key event is not spoken about, but is still understood. It’s the way real people communicate.

The cast is uniformly excellent, but it’s Laura Linney who’s the standout as Sammy; not surprisingly, she scored a Best Actress Oscar nomination for this performance. Ruffalo, meanwhile, lets Terry do a good amount of brooding and pouting and looking sorry for himself but never forgets that we need to see his warm side as well. And Rory Culkin (yes, he’s Macaulay’s little brother!) manages to make Rudy three-dimensional and interesting - no mean feat for a nine year-old. Lonergan (whose screenplay was also nominated for an Oscar) appears in a brief but amusing role as a very wordy priest.


Paramount’s PAL transfers have generally been of a very high standard, and this one’s no exception. Presented at 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced, the film is given a very nicely judged transfer to video with plenty of fine detail and rich, saturated colour when needed (the colour palette of the film is generally quite muted, but bright colours are used to great effect at times). There are no compression problems of any consequence to be found throughout - however, those of you who have a problem with a slightly less than pristine film source might be a bit annoyed by the various flecks and spots that are seen over the opening titles (love those low-budget opticals!) and occasionally throughout. For this reviewer, such things are not a problem unless they’re the result of poor film handling down the line; here, it’s probably got more to do with the fact that it’s an indie film with a limited budget.

The movie is stored on a dual layered DVD, with the layer change at the 59 minute mark fairly intelligently placed and quickly negotiated.


Yes, even the low-budget films get Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes these days, though with only one sound mixer instead of the usual three to five! Listed on the back cover as a 5.0 mix, it’s encoded as a 5.1 stream but the subwoofer is rarely, if ever, used. As you’d expect this is a dialogue-heavy film, but there’s plenty of music throughout (from Bach to Loretta Lynn!) and the various background sounds and effects are placed very naturally around the surround stage. While not flawless, this is a superb mix for this type of film. Paramount has encoded the track at the higher Dolby Digital bitrate of 448Kb/sec, which is always good to see.


It might not be The Matrix, but this film still scores some extras on DVD, with everything that’s on the US disc provided here.

The big attraction here is the audio commentary by Kenneth Lonergan; if, like us, you’ve suffered through boring, stuffy and self-indulgent commentary tracks on movies like this before, prepare to be surprised. Lonergan is immediately likeable - never patronising, always informative and generous with his information, he has a lot to say about the making of the film and what he thinks the characters are doing or thinking. It’s a good way to approach it - he’s not telling you what they ARE thinking, even though he wrote them in the first place. Instead, he gives us his personal impression of what they COULD be thinking, talking about them as though they were living, breathing people. He also has a lot to say about the filmmaking process, much of which is fascinating. Particularly insightful are his comments over the end credits about the current state of Hollywood movies. A terrific commentary, one of the best we’ve heard in a long while; it is also subtitled for the hearing impaired, which is commendable.

Also on the disc is an 11-minute EPK-style featurette called A Look Inside, which offers some comments to camera from director and actors and a whole heap of footage from the film that gives some key plot points away in the process. Interesting enough for a one-time watch, it’s nothing especially special. There’s also a theatrical trailer with quotes from critics - one of them almost Nostradamus-like in its predicting Laura Linney’s Oscar nomination (well done, Steve Rosen of the Denver Post!). And another quote, from fan fluff mag Entertainment Weekly, is just hilarious - “Mark Ruffalo Is A Second-Coming Of Marlon Brando,” it gushes, ignoring the fact that Brando’s not actually dead yet.

The main menu is very nicely animated with audio.


Warm, human and refreshingly intelligent, You Can Count On Me shows what American cinema craftspeople can do if they’re left alone. You’ll notice that almost every “acclaimed young director” has impressed the world with a film he had control over, which makes you wonder why studios then go and take that control away and replace it with the test-screening lottery. But that’s an article in itself; let’s just say for now that You Can Count On Me is a very, very good movie that spends 106 minutes not insulting anyone’s intelligence. And that’s no small achievement.

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      And I quote...
    "...a very, very good movie that spends 106 minutes not insulting anyone’s intelligence."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
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          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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