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HD   R Closed Captioning

Hector Babenco

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About the Movie

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.

Rotten Tomatoes Movie Reviews


  • Reviews Counted: 21
  • Fresh: 13
  • Rotten: 8
  • Average Rating: 6.6/10

Top Critics' Reviews

Rotten: 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. – Janet Maslin, New York Times, Dec 19, 2011

Fresh: "Ironweed" is decent fare, not excellent. It gets by on the strength of the unexpected. – Desson Thomson, Washington Post, Dec 19, 2011

Fresh: Actors are said to like to play drunks, because it gives them an excuse for overacting. But there is not much visible "acting" in this movie; the actors are too good for that. – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, Dec 19, 2011

Fresh: Good performances, but If you're looking for an uplifting tale of hope against despair, look elsewhere. – Empire Magazine, Dec 19, 2011

Read More About This Movie On Rotten Tomatoes

Customer Reviews

A modern classic

Americans have long been indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Great writers like William Kennedy and John Steinbeck have, in attempts to provoke national conscience, told the story of American poverty through the Depression years. Their best works have, against all odds, been the makings of two of Hollywood's greatest films.

This story, Ironweed, describes how easily the connections of middle-class life are broken, and how humiliating are the consequences to those innocents, the recently impoverished.

In this intimate drama, we witness the struggle of two such characters, played by America's most heralded male and female actors of their time. Dignity is all they have left, all they have to lose.

Brilliant performances by Nicholson and Streep, and from a superb supporting cast.

I fear, however, that like the novels that foretold them, films like this will be dismissed from the American lexicon as quickly as possible.

As this country devolves into a jungle where the weak are despised, so will be any works that attempt to memorialize them. Or even remember them.

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