KENNETH LONERGAN’S MARGARET

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Fascinating, challenging, and totally not for those without patience and an interest in 70’s style filmmaking aesthetics and storytelling techniques, Kenneth Lonergan’s almost-never-released multi-character drama Margaret is a film that many don’t even know exists, and that’s truly a shame, because it’s as compelling and as powerful as cinema can get. Originally scheduled for release in 2007 but inexplicably shelved until 2011, Margaret is one of those movies that’s likely to appeal to viewers looking for an almost novelistic approach to their movies, as the film bounces around from place to place, person to person, which creates an Altman-esque tableaux of individual moments which begin to combine into something profound and touching. Lonergan’s lone previous directorial credit, You Can Count On Me, was a perfectly observed indie dramedy with black humor and lots of heart, featuring some stellar turns from Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick. Whereas that film was small and intimate, with Margaret, he went large, and the results are no less impressive, but what’s important to note is that his sense of the small and personal didn’t dissipate with his sophomore directorial outing. Featuring a volcanic lead performance from Anna Paquin (never better, and I’m not the biggest fan overall), the film centers on a tragic city-bus accident and the aftermath that it creates. It’s a story about guilt, grief, acceptance, and finally, forgiveness, and nothing about the narrative is easy or simple. The film utilizes an Altman-esque sound design with tons of overlapping dialogue; Lonergan’s decision to also have the casual conversations of extras and peripheral characters audible on the soundtrack and audible to the main characters further heightens the anxious mood and frenzied atmosphere of this engrossing tapestry of people and events and places and emotions. The superb Mark Ruffalo pops up in yet another soul-searching supporting turn, and the film is enlivened with the likes of Matt Damon, Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Rosemarie DeWitt, Matthew Broderick, Olivia Thirlby, and Lonergan himself. We’ll never know exactly what happened behind the scenes with this film. The oft-rumored “Scorsese-Schoonmaker Cut” would certainly be interesting to see, but what we’re left with is a film of enormous ambition, a multilayered magnum opus from one of the best, most underappreciated voices that Hollywood has come across in years. Note: version screened was the 186 minute director’s cut.

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