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Ordinary People (1980)

tomatometer

92

Average Rating: 7.8/10
Reviews Counted: 37
Fresh: 34 | Rotten: 3

Though shot through with bitterness and sorrow, Robert Redford's directorial debut is absorbing and well-acted.

86

Average Rating: 7.1/10
Critic Reviews: 7
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 1

Though shot through with bitterness and sorrow, Robert Redford's directorial debut is absorbing and well-acted.

audience

88

liked it
Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 22,222

My Rating

Movie Info

Robert Redford's directorial debut ended up the 1980 Oscar winner for Best Picture. It is a simple but painfully emotional story of the disintegration of a "perfect" family. Teenager Conrad (Timothy Hutton) lives under a cloud of guilt after his brother drowns after their boat capsizes in Lake Michigan. Despite intensive therapy sessions with his psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch), Conrad can't shake the belief that he should have died instead of his brother; nor do his preoccupied parents (Donald

R,

Drama

Aug 14, 2001

Paramount Pictures

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All Critics (37) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (34) | Rotten (3) | DVD (11)

What Redford accomplishes is to provide an excellent portrait of how well families can hide their inner turmoil from the prying eyes of outsiders.

April 30, 2009 Full Review Source: ReelViews
ReelViews
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An austere and delicate examination of the ways in which a likable family falters under pressure and struggles, with ambiguous results, to renew itself.

February 20, 2009 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A powerfully intimate domestic drama.

February 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The film looks austere and serious, rather as if it had been shot inside a Frigidaire, and the oppressiveness of the images tends to strangle laughter, even at the most absurd excesses of Alvin Sargent's script.

December 13, 2006 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comments (4)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An actors' movie and an advert for therapy, extremely bitter, but handsomely directed in its elegant pretentiousness.

January 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An intelligent, perceptive, and deeply moving film.

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Under Redford's direction, even the smallest scenes practically leap off the screen.

January 10, 2014 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

This is still an auspicious directorial debut that stands as one of the first films to deal intelligently with the role of therapy.

January 10, 2014 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

It is an extraordinary achievement in an unforgettable film.

January 10, 2014 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

A masterpiece.

July 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Cinema Crazed
Cinema Crazed

Better than forever being dismissed with a huffy "I can't believe that beat Raging Bull".

March 13, 2011 Full Review Source: Antagony & Ecstasy
Antagony & Ecstasy

Story of emotional honesty is best for older kids.

December 26, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media | Comments (3)
Common Sense Media

Only reaching Chekhovian heights in its dreams.

February 23, 2008 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Fully deserving of its many accolades.

February 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

For an Oscar-winner it's unusually bleak but the power is very carefully controlled.

November 7, 2007 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

This dissection of family mores in upscale suburbia is emotionally powerful, decidedly unsentimental, and the suitable text for the feature directorial debut of Robert Redford.

December 23, 2006 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

Robert Redford chose to adapt Judith Guest's novel as his first directorial effort, with impressive results.

December 13, 2006 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

A beautifully acted film about the impact of a family tragedy on those who blame themselves and others.

December 13, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinema Sight
Cinema Sight

The 1980 drama hasn't aged well.

October 21, 2005 | Comments (3)
Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)

It is Redford's ability to let the movie breathe...that forces the viewer to experience the film on a visceral level.

November 24, 2004
Reel.com

Audience Reviews for Ordinary People

The greatest discoveries are internal ones, and this intelligent script portrays the inner adventures of a young man named Conrad and the people important to him. We quickly learn the family lost their oldest son, but we don't know how. Only Conrad can tell us and that's unlikely since he was recently released from the hospital after trying to end his own life. Over the course of the film, the skill of unprejudiced listening is introduced, treasured, and honed. Director Redford practices what the story preaches, allowing us to sit in silences with the characters and listen to the truths - something perhaps too risky for modern movies.
January 28, 2014
Matthew Slaven

Super Reviewer

Of all films that must be seen from the very beginning, ORDINARY PEOPLE is the most crucial example. The film starts out with a simplistic title sequence, with plain white lettering against a black backdrop. Think of a Woody Allen title sequence, except silent, slow, and dramatic. Gradually, the black backdrop begins to fade into a brighter introduction to the setting, a typical neighborhood. We hear Pachelbel's "Canon" as our background music, and we understand the mood immediately without even a hint of plot being yet provided. If those two starting minutes cannot feed you the pure solemnity of this film, nothing else will.

What is most "extraordinary" about ORDINARY PEOPLE is what an achievement this was. Robert Redford made his directorial debut with this film in 1980, after working as an actor, and he managed to clean up with the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing. Timothy Hutton cannot be forgotten either: his performance as the lead teen may have only earned him the statuette for Best Supporting Actor (he really had a main role), but he is what makes this feel like a more dramatic John Hughes flick. His character is foul-mouthed, disrespectful, but given his situation, agreeable. If a performer can carry an entire film as an adult, plus a well-experienced filmmaker, that's one thing. If an actor portraying a teen can portray a film alongside someone who is brand-new behind the camera, that is something thirty times more authentic. A true must-see for anyone and everyone.
February 24, 2012
spielberg00

Super Reviewer

Deeply involving family drama, wealthy in emotion, honesty and vigor. Every step of the way it successfully grabs your attention, yet never once going too far or undermining its realism. The tears, the tantrums, the frustrations and breakdowns - all of it acted out in a riveting display of first-rate performances. Everyone in the cast gives it their all, but the real stand-out here is Timothy Hutton. His portrayal of a psychologically distressed teenager, dealing with the loss of his brother and other family-related problems, is beyond fantastic. As can be said for the technical aspects of the film as well. Sublime directing and flawless editing, adds that little extra touch that took this from being a good film, to a great one. Now I can't say I'm much on the overall aestethics, what with all the ghastly 80's perms and questionable fashion style. But considering that's the only thing that bothered me somewhat, shows just what a truly outstanding piece of cinema this really his. A movie about letting go and facing your inner demons, that even after 30 years since its making, still holds incredible emotional value. Truly a must-see, for anyone who has ever suffered through some dark chapters in their life. Because this may very well help your healing process and make you look at things more objectively. At least it did for me, as I could relate to some of its subject matters on a personal level. In that sense, this is not so much a movie, as it is a rare and timeless instrument for moving on and cutting your losses. A larger-than-life motion picture, that gave me so much more than just two hours away from boredom.
August 17, 2011
CloudStrife84
Mike S

Super Reviewer

I found this portrait of a family crumbling apart in the wake of tragedy to be meerely really good instead of excellent or classic. Maybe I've just seen this type of thing enough to where it really has to be something to stand out...and this film didn't do that for me. Maybe it's because I'm still mad it stoel the Oscar from Raging Bull, and film that truly did deserve it without question.

Regardless of all that, this is a pretty good film, although it's not one I'd want to watch all the time. Maybe it's because the characters seemed to emotionally (and otherwise) detached, and it's hard to really feel for them a much as I should have. I'm no cold hearted bastard, but it was a tad difficult for me to completely care.

The performances are really what make the film worthwhile though. Even if the characters are cold and distant, and it's hard to root for them, that is to the credit of the people playing them...very nice, warm, and colorful people. Hutton is especially really good, as is Moore, whom really broke type for this movie in a performance that is still probably her most dramatic.

Any real faults with this movie could be chalked up to it being Redford's directorial debut, although that's not much of an excuse considering the number of years he spent in the business before deciding to direct.

Ok, I'm rambling. Enough of that. You should see this. It offers a decent portrait of a family who are not as ordinary as they try to be, even if it hasn't totally held up overall.
July 18, 2011
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

    1. Conrad: Giver her [his mother] the goddamn camera!
    – Submitted by David E (16 months ago)
    1. Dr. Berger: Forget how it looks; how does it feel?
    – Submitted by Jeff O (24 months ago)
View all quotes (2)

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