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In the wrong hands, this could so easily have become yet another dreary family drama in the TV Movie of the Week tradition, but first-time director Robert Redford skillfully avoids all the cliches. His restrained direction ensures that the movie never descends into melodrama, and the big moments are superbly realised without the use of soaring strings or other Hollywood devices. Consequently, there is not a single moment that does not entirely ring true, and the movie is all the more heartwrenching for Redford's honest approach.
He is helped by a uniformly excellent cast. From all accounts, Redford is (as you might expect) an actor's director, and here he draws superb performances from two actors in atypical roles. Donald Sutherland is deeply moving in the difficult role of the father unable to comprehend why his family is falling apart, and Mary Tyler Moore is equally good as his emotionally repressed wife. The latter's performance is all the braver when one recalls that Tyler Moore's role mirrored her own off-screen turmoil at that time. For like the character of Beth in the movie, she too had recently lost a son, and was struggling to come to terms with her loss.
Judd Hirsch and Elizabeth McGovern are also impressive as, respectively, the psychiatrist and choirfriend who try to help Conrad, the troubled younger son of Tyler Moore and Sutherland. Conrad is played by 20-year-old Timothy Hutton in a mesmerising performance that will leave few viewers unaffected. Perfectly capturing the suicidal anguish of his character, Hutton rightly won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in this pivotal role.Read more ›
Oscars: This movie should have swept the Oscars. The look of the film, the directing, the soundtrack, and all of the acting represent film-making at its absolute finest. Timothy Hutton was so good that it's mind-boggling that he did not go on to become one of our best actors. Donald Sutherland is obviously in pain but trying to do what he thinks fathers are supposed to do: be strong for everyone else, no matter what the cost to himself. Mary Tyler Moore is astonishing as a woman driven to not feel the terrible pain that always lurks one step behind her. Judd Hirsch is superb as the friendly but quietly relentless therapist who will not let these people stay protectively numb.
Caution: This film is extremely realistic in its portrayal of family interactions, repressed emotion, and grief. The impact is very powerful and intense. Few people will be able to watch this film without sharing some of that pain. My brother died in 2002, and I saw some of this film coming to life in my home and in my brother's home.