Winner of 5 Academy Awards®, Kramer vs. Kramer is a ground- breaking drama about the heartbreak of divorce and the struggle between work and family. Young husband and father Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) loves his family - and his job, which is where he spends most of his time. When he returns home late one evening from work, his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) confronts him and then leaves him, forcing Ted to become the sole caregiver to their six-year-old son. Now, Ted must learn to be a father while balancing the demands of his high-pressure career. But just as Ted adapts to his new role and begins to feel like a fulfilled parent, Joanna returns. And now she wants her son back.
It might have started out as a small, rather arty divorce drama but Kramer vs Kramer
was the biggest cinema hit of 1979. It confirmed Dustin Hoffman's status as a major star in a performance that combined his trademark twitchy intensity with deep sensitivity. And it provided Meryl Streep with a pivotal role in her rise to big-screen greatness. Both won Oscars, as did director Robert Benton and the film itself scooped the Best Picture award. Kramer vs Kramer
has worn well into the 21st century. Although clearly of its time--by the late 1970s, microscopic relationship analysis had become the
theme of commercial cinema--it stands on the strength of its central performances.
Hoffman's Ted Kramer is a vision of the Graduate grown up: serious, focused and thrown by anything that threatens his upwardly mobile professional trajectory. The news that his wife, who he has failed to notice teetering on the edge of a breakdown, is leaving him and their son sends him into a tailspin. The film is as much about his resilience and fulfilment as it is the story of a divorce and custody battle. Justin Henry is extraordinary as Billy, the boy caught in the middle, and turns in a remarkably complex, thoughtful performance, which is light years from the archetypal all-American kid you might anticipate. And in just a handful of scenes, Streep is mesmerising as Joanna, the deserting wife and mother who you just can't bring yourself to hate. Yes, this is soap opera. But it belongs up there with all the finest cinematic human dramas.
On the DVD: The widescreen presentation ensures a theatrically authentic experience, with some fantastic shots of New York city coming into their own. The mono sound is adequate for the relative intimacy of most of the dialogue. But the real bonus is the retrospective documentary in which director and writer Benton, producer Stanley Jaffe and the cast look back with touching satisfaction at a piece which clearly meant a great deal to them all. Hoffman's initial reluctance (he was going through a real-life divorce) to get involved, the process of working with a gifted child actor and Streep's desire to make Joanna understood are all recalled in fascinating detail. --Piers Ford