Ironweed

"Excellent"

Ironweed Review


Ironweed, based on the novel by William Kennedy (who is also credited with the script) tales the tale of Francis Phelan. Francis (Jack Nicholson) has a lot of problems. He's haunted by vivid hallucinations, constantly relives mistakes of the past, and is unable to find steady work. That sounds familiar, but Francis isn't a former Bush administration official, he's a former major league baseball player living in 1938 and a lot of his problems are brought on by his drinking (if his drinking is due to these problems is a subject up for debate). That's right, Francis is the stereotypical Depression-area drunk.

Since it stars a stereotypical Depression-era drunk you'd be tempted to think that the movie is a stereotypical treatment of the subject. Perhaps most directors would have played it that way, but Hector Babenco keeps things quite unusual. Instead of the familiar story most have come to expect from movies about prodigious amounts of alcohol ingestion: the fall, the bottom, then either redemption or death. There's none of the expected in Ironweed, no fall because we never see Francis when things were good, no bottom because he's already there, and redemption? Well that's a topic left to the viewer's imagination.

Instead of the standard format, Ironweed plays almost like series of vignettes. The running thread is one of heavy drinking, but that seems to be about the only thing holding the sometimes disparate storylines together. The most interesting of the side stories revolve around Francis' longtime girlfriend Helen Archer (Meryl Streep), but viewers will find plenty of other curious characters introduced along the way.

Ironweed is a long movie, clocking in at 2 hours and 23 minutes, and if you're wondering if loosely-tied together scraps of a story can keep a film interesting for that long the answer is that they can. For that you have to give a lot of credit to the actors. (Nicholson and Streep were both deservingly Oscar-nominated for their roles in Ironweed.) Give an actor a bottle as a prop and you can usually expect some serious over acting, the near universal interpretation of acting drunk seems to consist of talking loud, slurring words, and pratfalls. In the hands of Nicholson and Streep the temptation is avoided. When they're hammered you can tell, but you won't see Francis Phelan laying on the ground after tearing down a shower curtain and spouting off a witty one liner. When people are drunk in Ironweed (all the time) they are subdued and ashamed. They know what they're doing isn't healthy, but they are in a mad race to escape the real world and the inside track can be found at the bottom of a bottle.

The acting isn't the only high point in Ironweed, the cinematography feels just right and the sets look fantastic in a Depression-era, seedy sort of way. The character development is deftly done with even the minor characters having multiple dimensions to their personas. Ironweed, in total, is a very well crafted movie from almost any perspective, but for everything Ironweed gets right, it is still hard to shake the feeling that the movie is too disjointed to be great.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 143 mins

In Theaters: Monday 1st February 1988

Distributed by: Vestron Video

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 7

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Keith Barish,

Starring: as Francis Phelan, as Helen Archer, as Annie Phelan, as Rudy, as Harold Allen

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.