Ordinary People (1980)    2 Stars

“some films you watch, others you feel.”


Ordinary People (1980)
Ordinary People (1980)


Director: Robert Redford

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch

Synopsis: The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son.

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It’s very easy for introspective studies like Ordinary People to become enchanted by their own seriousness of purpose so that you can almost picture everyone’s chest puffing with pride after each take. Perhaps because this was Redford’s directorial debut and Tim Hutton’s first movie role, Ordinary People manages to avoid such pitfalls and has the feel of an important piece of work without being pretentious about it.

Having said that, Ordinary People isn’t usually my type of movie. Characters suppressing their feelings for 100 minutes so that they can finally let them burst forth for a (usually) overwrought finale generally leave me cold. But Ordinary People is at least brave enough to provide no neatly packaged Hollywood ending and seems to be quite stringent in its adherence to realism.

Everyone involved on the screen delivers superlative performances. Hutton’s role would be challenging for an experienced actor, but must have been terrifying for a novice to tackle. He does well, though, displaying a convincing vulnerability that strains to contain a seething anger and resentment simmering beneath the surface. Donald Sutherland (MASH, The Hunger Games) is called upon to deliver a buttoned-down character as Hutton’s father, whose well-meaning efforts to keep the peace at home simply add fuel to the brooding discontent of his wife and son. Tyler-Moore, an actress known chiefly for her lightweight roles, is a revelation as the emotionally-distant mother whose embarrassment of her son’s mental fragility drives a wedge between them.

(Reviewed 1st March 2012)

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