Ironweed (1987)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.
R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Art House & International , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Vestron Video

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Jack Nicholson
as Francis Phelan
Meryl Streep
as Helen Archer
Carroll Baker
as Annie Phelan
Tom Waits
as Rudy
Michael O'Keefe
as Billy Phelan
Diane Venora
as Peg Phelan
Fred Gwynne
as Oscar Reo
Jake Dengel
as Pee Wee
Nathan Lane
as Harold Allen
James Gammon
as Rev. Chester
Will Zahrn
as Rowdy Dick
Ean Ehas
as Danny
Phyllis Guttung
as Old Woman
Hy Anzell
as Rosskam
Bethel Leslie
as Librarian
Louise Phillips
as Flower Girl
Marjorie Slocum
as Elderly Woman
Lena Spencer
as Slatternly Woman
Lola Pashalinski
as Fat Woman with Turkey
Paul A. DiCocco Jr.
as Bus Driver
James Dukas
as Finny
Jared Swartout
as Guard Captain
Ted Levine
as Pocono Pete
Martin Patterson
as Foxy Phil Tooker
Terry O'Reilly
as Aldo Campione
Michael O'Gorman
as Strike Leader
Frank Whaley
as Young Francis
Jordan Valdina
as Youth at Strike
Louis St. Louis
as Piano Man
John Wright
as Goblin
Nicole Weden
as Goblin
Peter Pryor
as Goblin
Duane Scholz
as Goblin
Matt McGrath
as Goblin
Lois Barden Stilley
as Mrs. Dillon
Cori Irwin
as Young Girl
Phyllis Gottung
as Old Woman
James Yoham
as Bald Man
Ean Egas
as Danny
Jeff Morris
as Michigan Mac
Robert Manion
as Raider
Pat Devane
as Nurse
John Wright
as Goblin
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Critic Reviews for Ironweed

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (8)

Watching "Ironweed" is like having a large, metal object lodged in your brain for 2 1/2 hours. It hurts.

Full Review… | December 18, 2011
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

The film becomes becalmed and confusing; it lacks the novel's great unwavering trajectory.

Full Review… | December 18, 2011
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Unrelentingly bleak, Ironweed is a film without an audience and no reason for being except its own self-importance.

Full Review… | March 25, 2009
Top Critic

At last, a real part for Nicholson to sink his teeth into.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
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
New York Times
Top Critic

Comes about as close to being an unmitigated waste of talent as any movie in recent memory.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Ironweed

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 Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

Brilliantly acted but profundly sad. A sense of gloom hangs heavily over the entire film.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer


An utterly heartbreaking film about the people on the very fringe of society in the 1930s. It features one of the best performances Jack Nicholson has ever given. It allows him to have the crazy angry moments he is known for as well as the more subdued that he is also very good at. Meryl Streep is her usual fantastic self here and she makes you cry with just a facial expression. Outside of their performances its a powerful exploration of the fact that "bums" are not just bums. They have stories and lives that are just as important as everyone else. As Nicholson's character says, "Before they were bums they were somebody."

Alec Barniskis
Alec Barniskis

Super Reviewer

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