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Ordinary People (1980)

DVD Cover (Paramount)
Genres:
Drama, Family Drama, Psychological Drama
Director:
Robert Redford Robert Redford
Starring:
Donald Sutherland Donald Sutherland
Mary Tyler Moore Mary Tyler Moore
Judd Hirsch Judd Hirsch
Timothy Hutton Timothy Hutton
M. Emmet Walsh M. Emmet Walsh
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> Holiday: Christmas

7.8 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: April 19, 2007
What's your favorite movie ever made?

As a critic, you can bet that I get asked this question ALL THE TIME. In fact, it's probably the question I am asked most often, and for as long as I can remember, the answer to that question has been the same. And that answer has always been, for as long as I can remember -- "Ordinary People". I am constantly amazed at how many cinema lovers out there have never seen "Ordinary People" and I have made it my mission to convert as many people as possible to this masterpiece of American drama. Most people know it as the film that defeated "Raging Bull" for Best Picture in 1981, but it also took home Best Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. In fact, it was Robert Redford's first film as a director. It has all of these things going for it, and not to mention one of the greatest acting performances in the history of film.

Based on the amazing novel by Judith Guest, this is the story of the Jarrett Family. The oldest son, Bucky, has been killed in a freak boating accident and the rest of the family is left behind to deal. Conrad (Timothy Hutton), the youngest, was so distraught that he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists, and has just recently returned home from the hospital. Now home, he finds adjusting rather difficult. He still blames himself for his brother's death and just can't get a grasp on a social life. His father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), a successful attorney, is very concerned with his son's well being and is constantly making sure Conrad is all right. His mother, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) is cold and distant, showing little affection and serving as a reminder to Conrad that his brother was more than just the first born -- to Conrad, he was also the most loved. The film follows the family as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of one of their own, and how they try desperately to keep another of their own safe from harm. Judd Hirsch co-stars as Dr. Berger, a psychiatrist Conrad begins to see to help himself cope.

Where to begin? Let's start with the filming style. "Ordinary People" is as simple as they come. You won't find many dolly shots or complicated camera angles. Everything is shot head-on, very minimalistic and very simple. The score is simple. The sets and the costumes are simple. Nothing too complicated. Ordinary. And that is what makes the film work so well is that these people seem so real. For me, it's like eavesdropping on these private conversations that I really shouldn't be hearing. It's like falling headfirst into a real-life family drama, watching the whole thing unfold. "Ordinary People" moves along at a moderate pace, but very little action happens here, yet you find yourself glued to the screen the entire time. The action comes in the dialogue and the intent of the dialogue and the relationships between the characters. That's all the action that we need.

In my opinion, Mary Tyler Moore delivers the single greatest female acting performance in film history as the cold and domineering mother, Beth. The look that Moore gets in her eyes -- the subtle gestures and the ever subtler eye jerks that just break your heart. She plays the character with so much depth and yet so much singularity that you just have to stand in awe. As Calvin, Donald Sutherland delivers one of his strongest performances as a man who is desperate to keep his family together. Timothy Hutton picked up the Oscar for his performance, and richly so. In a breakout performance, Hutton is all over the place as Conrad, showing us a wide range of emotions. And, Judd Hirsch provides just enough stability and comedy relief to keep the film from becoming nothing but a slaughterhouse of dramatic emotion.

"Ordinary People" is my favorite film ever made. Hands down. No argument. I could list 1,000 reasons why I love this film, but that would take up too much space on this site. Everyone who comes to my apartment is required to see "Ordinary People" and I can only hope that they take as much away from it as I did, and as I do. I can still watch this film every other day and not get tired of it. It's that kind of film for me. "Ordinary People" needs to be re-discovered by a new generation, and if that means a remake, then that means a remake. I would condone one in this case, just so the original could become more visible again. It won Best Picture for God's sake, and rightfully so. It deserves far more respect than it has been receiving. 10/10
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