Top positive review
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An extremely moving family drama
on 26 January 2004
This movie profoundly affected me when I first saw it 6 years ago,when I was 10, and watching it today its impact remains undiminished.
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. (Though why he was not nominated for Best Actor is beyond me; his is, after all, the central performance in the movie). Given the degree of Hutton's talent, one can only look in dismay at the downward spiral of his career in recent years.
Ordinary People was one of the finest American movies of the 1980s, and its themes are as relevant today as they were two decades ago. I highly recommend this genuine classic.