ROBERT REDFORD’S ORDINARY PEOPLE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Robert Redford’s brilliant family drama Ordinary People is a great movie. How could it not be? It’s real. It’s genuine. Nothing is overdone. And everything works. Redford’s invisible direction, for which he won an Oscar in no less than his directorial debut, is sublime, never showboating in any aesthetic fashion, instead allowing Alvin Sargent’s sensitive and deeply layered screenplay (which was based on Judith Guest’s novel) to do all the heavy lifting. And because Sargent was a master when it came to dialogue and crafting scenes that felt inherently real and honest, there’s nothing about Ordinary People that rings false or feels ill-conceived. The exemplary performances are beyond description. Donald Sutherland as the nice-guy father trying to keep his family together, Mary Tyler Moore with her bottled up rage and intense emotional repression, Timothy Hutton dropping a tour de force performance as an anguished, suicidal teen, Judd Hirsch as the kind shrink who takes a liking to Hutton, fresh-faced Elizabeth McGovern as Hutton’s object of desire – everyone was absolutely remarkable in this delicate piece of work. John Bailey’s plain and focused cinematography is a clear-cut lesson in less is more; sometimes you just need to frame the actors and hold the shots for a bit longer than normal (Jeff Kanew’s patient editing is superb) and pure movie magic will become the result. Marvin Hamlisch’s piano-centric score is the icing on the cake. The winner of four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton), Ordinary People was a critical favorite and box-office smash, and despite 37 years elapsing since its release, its power remains undiluted. No major studio would be interested in making this film today and that’s a really sad fact of life.

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