Manhattan high school student Lisa (Anna Paquin) has rigid moral principles, but finds them tested when she witnesses a fatal bus accident. Guilt-ridden, she embarks on a fraught quest to seek retribution for the victim, as her high-strung mother (J. Smith-Cameron) and kindly maths teacher (Matt Damon) look helplessly on.
Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to his 2000 debut You Can Count On Me has such a tortuous backstory that it’s remarkable enough we’re seeing it at all. Shot in 2005, it’s since been stuck in litigation purgatory as the director found himself unable to edit its sprawling narrative to his satisfaction. That what promised to be a bloated folly turns out to be a rich, searching drama is little short of a miracle.
In a startling performance that might flummox the True Blood crowd, Paquin shoulders the full weight of the story’s complex moral framework, a cat’s-cradle of crossed emotions and perceptions in which nobody gets what they want out of anyone else; Lonergan never writes easy redemption when a compromised version will do. Amid its ample dramatic rewards, Margaret might be the most subtly moving study American cinema has yet produced of social fractures in post-9/11 New York.
As a rule, not many films left in post-production limbo for six years turn out to be worth the wait, but Margaret is an exquisite exception: knotty, ambitious and trading in messy human truths, its the work of a master dramatist. Heres hoping Lonergans