Ironweed

1987

Ironweed

Critics Consensus

Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep play masterfully off each, but Ironweed's unrelenting bleakness proves to be more monotonous than compelling.

58%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 24

59%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,818

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Movie Info

Based on the William Kennedy novel of the same name Ironweed is set in the waning years of the Depression. Jack Nicholson plays Francis Phelan, a washed-up ballplayer (a onetime infielder for the Washington Senators) who deserted his family back in the 1910s when he accidentally killed his infant son by dropping him. Since that time, Phelan has been a shabby barfly, living from drink to drink; he spends his days palling around with Rudy (Tom Waits), with whom he works a motley series of jobs in exchange for a place to lay his head and an occasional jug of wine. Wandering into his hometown of Albany, New York, Phelan blearily seeks out his girlfriend and erstwhile drinking companion of nine years, Helen Archer (Meryl Streep), who has begun prostituting herself for drink and lodging. The two derelicts touch base in a mission managed by minister James Gammon, and later in Fred Gwynne's squalid gin mill. Over the next few days, Phelan takes a few minor jobs to support his habit, while his mind wavers between past and present. Eventually, a chance for a reconciliation with his wife (Carroll Baker) emerges. Directed by Hector Babenco following his enormous success with Kiss of the Spider Woman , Ironweed netted Oscar nominations for Nicholson and Streep.

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Critic Reviews for Ironweed

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (9) | Fresh (14) | Rotten (10)

  • If you enjoyed Richard E Grant and Melissa McCarthy as on-the-skids New Yorkers in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, here's an even starrier example of Hollywood poverty porn.

    December 3, 2019 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Ed Potton

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Watching "Ironweed" is like having a large, metal object lodged in your brain for 2 1/2 hours. It hurts.

    December 19, 2011 | Full Review…
  • The film becomes becalmed and confusing; it lacks the novel's great unwavering trajectory.

    December 19, 2011 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
  • Unrelentingly bleak, Ironweed is a film without an audience and no reason for being except its own self-importance.

    March 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • At last, a real part for Nicholson to sink his teeth into.

    June 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Despite its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, its superstar cast and its $23 million budget, Mr. Babenco's ''Ironweed'' is skeletal, a mere outline of Mr. Kennedy's far more resonant book.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 2.5/5

Audience Reviews for Ironweed

  • Nov 06, 2016
    It looks like it was made by anyone, since Babenco directs it without any passion or conviction and wastes Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep in a tiring narrative that becomes so unnecessarily long with a lot of scenes that could have been cut without any damage to the story.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Nov 04, 2013
    Nicholson and Streep simply just can't do it. What a tragedy for the finest actors of their generation. The script writer is at fault as this film bobs and weaves out of the control of its leads.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jun 03, 2013
    Good cast promises and performances and an absorbing 30s environment wasted by lack of character's background exploration. It touched interesting concepts. Allow me to highlight the schizophrenia one. It is precisely because of the problem I mentioned that the (scary and) emotional impact that Francis' visions are supposed to have feel flat and unexplained. In the end, it came out as a random element that could have been excluded. On the other hand, certain flashbacks were engaging and felt like richer in content, but were abruptly cut. It's like trying to pee in peace and constantly getting interrupted so you can never finish. But as a final line, I'd like this to remain: Ironweed does not deserve to be ignored with the intensity it is today. 67/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Aug 25, 2011
    I wasn't a fan. The acting was good, but the story was very depressing and a little slow-moving.
    Erin C Super Reviewer

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