“Ordinary People” – 1980. Dir. Robert Redford

With Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, M. Emmet Walsh and Timothy Hutton.

Listen, don’t take refuge in one-liners like “you’re the doctor”. Okay? Because that pisses me off.”

  • Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch)

“Ordinary People” marks the Oscar winning directorial debut of Robert Redford. This is an intensely rough drama that centers on the Jarrett family; more specifically Conrad Jarrett (Hutton who won Best Supporting Actor in his film debut) who had tried to kill himself after the death of his brother. The father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland) is trying to hold his family together; the mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) is empty and distant – putting up this incredible façade that fools absolutely everyone but Conrad.

This is as heavy as films come, making one depressing ride of a film that is nothing less than magnificent. Redford’s masterful direction guides us through this horrible afterlife of the Jarrett family. Conrad begins to visit a psychiatrist Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch) who helps him unearth Conrad’s personal demons.

This is a film, which looks and feels incredibly nostalgic – bringing me back to childhood memories. I can’t speak highly enough about Redford, the man is a great actor, but an even better director. We follow this slow paced melodramatic film to the final conclusion, where issues are resolved yet unresolved, but we know one thing for sure: the story is over.

The acting ensemble of this film just puts on a clinic. Donald Sutherland gives the standout performance of his long and distinguished career. When the final scene is over, I found myself so moved by Sutherland’s performance I was almost brought to tears. Timothy Hutton gives the finest performance of his somewhat shitty career and Judd Hirsch is wonderful in a slightly comedic Dr. Berger.

It’s really a shame I’m not old enough to be doused with Mary Tyler Moore’s bubbly and comedicly cute turns in “The Dick van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” because in this film she is a horrible fucking person. What makes her so terrifying is that she’s not evil – she’s emotionless. Imagine Patrick Bateman but with complete self control – fucking freaky.

The film is wonderful in the way it’s told – we’re shown flashbacks through Conrad and Calvin but never through Beth – I find that marvelous storytelling, it tells us so much about her character that she has zero flashbacks and little screen time. I love the way we’re shown she has complete control without lifting a finger – the way she has dominance over Calvin without him even knowing – with him thinking he has a wonderful life and marriage.

This is a very heavy film, a very depressing film – but this is the subgenre that I strive on. I enjoy heavy acting ensembles that is just filled with drama and emotion (which is why I LOVE “The Big Chill”). This is one of those rare occasions where I actually agree with the Academy’s Best Picture. “Ordinary People” is Robert Redford’s masterpiece. Oh, and Robert DeNiro has Sutherland’s Oscar – that’s right – I said it.


Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

7 thoughts on ““Ordinary People” – 1980. Dir. Robert Redford”

  1. The first movie I ever got on VHS. I need to see this again because it really is one of the all-time greats. Love the broken family dynamic, and you’re dead on about the cast, especially Sutherland. But that Mary Tyler-Moore, what a BITCH! Good review, man. More people need to check this out.

  2. “Shitty career”? Them’s some harsh words there, Frank. And I’ll have you know Timothy Hutton deserved an OSCAR for “The Killing Room”!

    Kidding aside, I’ve never seen this all the way through, but I remember Mary Tyler Moore shocking the sh** out of me.

  3. Read the novel for a summer reading list, and watching this made me feel a lot of hope for novel adaptations. However, still didn’t deserve to win the Best Picture, I loved Raging Bull more.

  4. A rightful score here. An absolutely perfectly made film that haunted me so badly in my youth that I haven’t watched it in at least ten years. It lingered with me for over a month.

    I’m with M. Carter here! Timothy Hutton has made some good movies and played some good roles. I LOVED him in Beautiful Girls. The show he’s on now would seem right up my ally, nonsensical and overly fantastical events with over the top characters doing insane things, but I just couldn’t attach myself to it and was out after two episodes and can’t even recall the name. Not everyone can be Kiefer Sutherland, Denis Leary, or Timothy Olyphant when it comes to careers after film on TV.

  5. Interesting to read that you found the film depressing. I didn’t find it depressing at all. Of course, it was not funny but I found it rather evocative, humane and touching. You can read my write up on it at nookinthewoods.wordpress.com

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