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.
on 30 December 2003
Robert Redford's debut as a director distinguishes itself by the economy of the directing,but also the sreenplay, with not a wasted frame or throwaway line of script between the two.
The achievement is rounded off with towering performances, not only from Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland as the surviving family members; but equally from Elizabeth McGovern as Hutton's soul mate,salvation and link with the rest of humanity, and Judd Hirsch ("Taxi") as the pragmatic,straight-talking but compassionate psychiatrist.
The regular on-the-couch interludes with Hutton and Hirsch create an effective thread to counterpoint the heavy domestic situation with Hutton and his still-grieving mother.
Likewise, Hutton's blossoming relationship with McGovern is sensitively intertwined with the rest of the plot,avoiding the obvious "love interest" angle for something more substantive.
In the end, the film is about forgiveness and accepting relationships for what they are, and not what we are told they should be.
Ordinary People,maybe, but a truly extraordinary film in terms of its insight, emotional resonance (you would need to be made of wood not to be profoundly moved by the way these people tell the story) and peerless performances by all involved on-screen and off. For what it's worth, definitely one of my Top Five of all time.
This is a absolutely wonderful and convincing film about affluent middle America and how a family confronts a tragedy that is outside of its normal control. It is a story of change that is thrust upon people who are extremely secure in their environment, who are not used to things they cannot immediately master, dismiss, or anesthetize by a cushion of money and supportive relationships.
The story centers on a sensitive and gifted younger son, who is caught in an existential anxiety that he cannot control. Timothy Hutton delivers what I think is the finest performance of his career, his every gesture displaying the turmoil he is feeling inside. He cannot feel anything, he complains, and is heading for another breakdown. He deserved the Oscar for it. But Donald Sutherland is also great as his father, who is struggling to cope with issues he has never confronted. Finally, in perhaps her most subtle role, Mary Tyler Moore is the mother; afraid of genuine emotion yet exuding an arrogant complacency, she had long been content to live in a comfortable predictability, long accustomed her role and milieu. They are all reacting to unspeakable pain in their own ways, revealing their strengths and capacities.
The final character in the film is Chicago's North Shore, a community that must be experienced to be believed. Redford portrays it with a sensitivity that is astonishing and not in the slightest condescending in spite of his many comical touches. I grew up there and still feel it is more or less home, though I have long since left. The place is one of the most affluent yet least cultured places in the US. Its residents feel entitled to a natural continuation of their family patterns: get a good job, probably related to finance in Chicago, and live a comfortable life of local prestige and style. I do not mean to imply that their lives are superficial or empty, just largely unquestioned and unquestioning, preoccupied with the generation of wealth and perpetuation of their "class standing" (for want of a better term). However, if something disrupts this cocoon - personal tragedy, economic upheaval, or just not fitting in - they are forced to leave their comfort zone, often with devastating results but also with the potential to grow.
The plot of the film is about the son, Conrad, as he begins to see a wonderful psychiatrist, who is completely straight with him as well as caring. They develop a powerful relationship, a space where Conrad can be himself and experiment with a new way of being. While the father is open to it, the mother refuses to recognize Conrad's struggle. The results are surprising as the equilibrium of the family shifts fundamentally.
Redford's film raises all of these issues with perfect emotional pitch. I watched it with my daughter (14); our family had lived in the area for a couple of years - kind of a sabbatical from our home in Europe, to be near my parents. She saw places we knew, recognized the types of people, and also learned about psychiatry (my father was a psychiatrist). We were both moved to tears by the story and the outstanding acting and talked a lot about the film afterwards. It is true art about what I have long viewed as an artless place.
Warmly recommended. With the many subtleties in it, this film can be watched many times.
on 6 October 2005
A family has lost their oldest son in a boating accident, and the remaining son (Timothy Hutton) blames himself and attempts suicide. The parents, Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore, are trying to hold themselves and their family together, but the main way they are doing it is by hiding and repressing their pain, instead of facing the almost-unfaceable. Things get really stirred up when Timothy Hutton goes to see a therapist, played by Judd Hirsch. Everyone begins to face the horror and all the grief comes pouring out.
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.
on 12 December 2000
Robert Redford directed this excellent film which examines the lives of a family thrown into termoil when one of the its members is tragically killed in an accident. This event affects the son who is very obviously tramatised and finds it difficult to return to a normal life. What makes the film both interesting and compeling is that it examines the inter-rationships between the family members and demonstrates in a gripping and realistic way that adversity can expose human weaknesses and frailties. It also explores the idea that relationships are only truely tested in difficult situations. I think anyone watching this film will relate to the superb performances of the actors and empathise with the emotions each of them goes through. Highly recommended and one of my all time best films.
on 5 October 2010
Quite simply.... the BEST film about therapy. Puts nonsense like Prince of Tides The Prince Of Tides [DVD] into perspective.
Ordinary People is a triumph for the director and the cast, an intelligent movie that captures the essence of therapy (i.e. the authenticity of relationship within the artificial and contrived setting) and the depth and complexity of a family's response to unimaginable grief. Scene after scene serve as wonderful testimonies to the film maker's art: e.g. The garden, The family photo, The diner, and of course, the fascinating therapy sessions.
Best of all... the ending, so unlike Hollywood, where for once, all is not explained or made good. Ordinary People, loose endings, real life.
Kevin Chandler (author: Listening in: A Novel of Therapy and Real Life
At the heart of Ordinary People are some outstanding performances and a tight script; it probably isn't quite as good as its Oscar for Best Picture suggests, but is certainly as good as other winners ... For me, it has a lot of personal significance as it was the film that really got me into cinema seeing it when I was about the age of Timothy Hutton's character, soon after it was released. Seeing how film could convey emotion with such intensity changed my feeling about the medium, and watching it now I still feel much the same. Timothy Hutton is amazing as the teenaged Conrad, trying to get over a family tragedy, and suffering from an unbridgeable gap that has opened between him and his mother. Mary Tyler Moore gets the frostiness of this character very well, and their scenes together get an acute sense of awkwardness through the timing of both actors. Donald Sutherland excels as the father, as does Judd Hirsch as a psychiatrist - the scenes between him and Conrad are the best in the film, alongside the last scene ... Its flaws do seem more apparent now than back in 1981 - visually somewhat pedestrian, it relies on a slow zoom effect and doesn't manage to inject much life into the images themselves, beyond facial expressions. Compared to a film like Brokeback Mountain, say, it is very lacking in this regard. Robert Redford was directing for the first time, but there is a sense of constraint and very little expressive use of the camera. It also holds off the key aspect of the drama until the end, where surely the psychiatrist would have pinpointed it far sooner (maybe he did, in his mind ...). Nevertheless it remains a very affecting drama and Hutton is sublime. It makes his relative obscurity quite surprising - I would have thought he was destined to be an actor in the mould of Ethan Hawke, and to have got there first ...
on 23 November 2009
I watched "Ordinary People" on a whim a few months back. I was born in '89 so this film was before my time and I hadn't heard about it prior to deciding to watch it. The first time I did see it was through the Xbox 360's Video Streaming system, which for reasons unknown to me, wasn't the full film. A large chunk is cut from the middle of the film. I was unaware of this as I watched it and understandably, the film seemed random and unanswered. BUT, that said, what I did see moved me to such an extent, it was so powerful that I then bought the DVD to watch it again to hopefully make more sense (thinking I had missed something). I soon saw that I missed a majority of it and more importantly, I had missed the most significant features. It is an absolutely stunning film, brilliantly acted, and equally brilliantly written.
From a film that boasts an interestingly modest title, "Ordinary People" explores the extraordinary relationships, circumstances and events that flow through many people's lives. I have suffered grief before in my life, and I have also been in a "suicidal" place so the film struck a personal chord with me. There are so many elements to it that it can relate to so many people on so many different levels without being too intense and depressing. Surprisingly, for the subject and content, the film is weirdly uplifting in places and certainly leaves a long-lasting impression, of which is largely positive. It avoids focusing on the death of the son directly, instead decides to show to fallout from this tragedy through three different people's eyes, showing how they deal with it, each in very different, often destructive ways.
I truly believe this film is unforgettable and from what I have seen of others like it, unique too. I am rarely moved in the way this film moved me. It really draws you into a very believable plot including very believeable characters. The acting is superb and flawless.
I strongly, strongly reccomend you to watch this film. I have shared it with many people of different backgrounds, experiences and emotional "strength", all of which adored it and related to it. I proudly class this film as one of my all-time favourite films and for that reason I urge you to give it the time it deserves. It has so much to offer, and if you like to be emotionally challenged by a film, I promise this film wont disappoint.
on 24 January 2016
One of the most realistic accounts of a family in turmoil after a tragedy and the dysfunctional elements that it brings out
due this. Superbly acted by the whole cast, especially Timothy Hutton, who absolutely embodies the character 100 per cent. Mary Tyler Moore is superb too. The characters are all flawed and all in pain but they each deal with it in their own ways and have their own personal struggles as well as the family ones. The direction by Robert Redford focuses on each characters traits and conflicts,, even with just a movement or look. This film should be seen by everyone.
on 10 September 2012
This film was Robert Redford's first film as a director and awesome it was too....won best film Oscar that year along with 3 other Oscars...not too shabby a start. Extraordinary work by the amazing cast of actors too...Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Tim Hutton, Judd Hirsch and Elizabeth McGovern playing a small part - she is now the chataleine at Downton Abbey!!!! Cora, Lady Grantham!!!! The intensity of the actors' performances just lends to the marvellous and very touching story about a teenage boy struggling with survivor guilt after his brother drowns when they are involved in a boating accident, and knowing that Bucky his bro, was the favourite of his very emotionally cold mother played by an excellent and surprising (considering she was well known as a comedy actress) Tyler Moore. Sutherland's understated, yet intense role as the Father struggling to bridge the divide between them is heart rending and stupendous, as is Judd Hirsch's role as a pyschiatrist helping Tim Hutton's character to cope with his attempted suicide, and life in general at home and at school. The scene where Tim's charcter breaks down and Judd Hirsch's character hugs him and tels him he's his friend, well I just wept buckets. First saw this film in the 80s, so glad I got it off Amazon for under £3....bestest bargain!!!!