A little advice about feelings kiddo, don’t expect it always to tickle -Dr. Berger
The word perfect is a word I try to avoid using when I’ve reviewing a film but it’s going to be difficult not to when reviewing Ordinary People. Every aspect of this film melded together beautifully (I almost typed perfectly there). Expect directing accompanied acting performances that were real, raw and mind-blowing. The music told its own story, building on the well-written script. It is not a happy film, in fact it is very depressing, but Ordinary People is an example of a near perfect film.
The film is about the Jarrett family after they have suffered a terrible loss and tragedy. The main character is the youngest son, Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton), who has tried to commit suicide after the death of his older brother Buck Jarrett (Scott Doebler). The film begins well after the tragic incidents occur. Buck has passed, Conrad has attempted to end his life, been admitted to a mental hospital and released. We watch as Conrad attempts to return to normal life. His father, Calvin Jarrett (Donald Sutherland), is as supportive as possible, encouraging and eventually convincing Conrad to see a psychiatrist Doctor Tyrone Berger (Judd Hirsch). Conrad’s mother, Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), is the exact opposite. Unable to deal with the loss of her favorite sun, Beth can no longer connect with Conrad. She is only able to think of how things affect her and cannot give her “sick” son the love and attention he needs and deserves. There are no words to describe how fundamentally sad the relationship between Conrad and Beth is. They cannot give each other any emotion as Conrad desperately works for his mother’s love and his mother desperately tries to sweep all her pain and sorrow, and everything that reminds her of it, under the rug.
When watching a film, there tends to be performances that stand out and some that get lost in the shuffle. They are not necessarily bad performances; they just are not as good as the rest. In this film there was no getting lost in the shuffle, every performance was absolutely brilliant. Mary Tyler Moore steps out of her acting comfort zone, playing a character that is in no way likable. It is difficult not to feel bad for Beth but her actions and reactions to the tragedy are unforgivable. She lost a son, that much is true but that does not excuse her from giving up on the rest of her family. Timothy Hutton gives the performance of his life, earning himself an Oscar for Best Performance in a leading role. Donald Sutherland is heartbreaking as a father that is watching his family crumble around him and desperately trying to hold it together.
One of the biggest surprises of this film for me was the directing, not just the directing skill but who the director was. Robert Redford makes his directorial debut and proves that his cinema talent does not simply lie in acting. Redford skillfully wields the camera. Every scene was artfully composed, reflecting the attitude and mood. Redford also proved himself to be a master of transitions. Scenes were split by quick, sharp cuts while others faded away softly. Many important parts of the story were told in flashbacks, sprinkled throughout the film to create some breath taking scenes. One of the best scenes in the film in which we are finally allowed to realize how Buck died occurs when Conrad has a breakdown in the middle of the night and gets ahold of his therapist. Conrad finally relives the death of brother, showing the audience the events through a series of quick flashbacks.
Ordinary People beat Coal Miner’s Daughter, the Elephant Man, Raging Bull and Tess for the 1981 Oscar for Best Picture. While I have not seen any of the other nominated films I can say that Ordinary People deserved the win. If you doubted my review of Redford’s directorial debut then you should learn not to doubt me. Robert Redford took home an Oscar for Best Director, Timothy Hutton won for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Alvin Sargent won for Best Writing. Both Judd Hirsch and Mary Tyler Moore were nominated for their performances but neither took home the win. Ordinary People is a depressing but hopeful example of a brilliant film. In my book this is a 10 out of 10 film, a nearly perfect example of an Oscar Best Picture Winner.
Now, before all you readers out there scoff at me and wonder how someone can call themselves an entertainment editor if they haven’t seen the Departed, which by the way is a very rude thing to do, I HAVE seen the Departed. My goal while writing these Best Picture posts is not to watch all of the Best Picture winners I haven’t seen but to watch and review every Best Picture winner. That means I am re-watching the ones that I have already seen and I am glad I decided to do so. I forgot what an outstanding movie The Departed is until I watched it again, remembering why it earned director Martin Scorsese his first Best Director win.
Another film with a fairly complex plot that can be stripped down and explain at its most basic in a paragraph. Ultimately the story revolves around two men, both going undercover and eventually tasked to find one another. The film takes place in Boston crime scene which is run by the Irish-American mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). The film opens with Costello enlisting the help of a young boy, obviously meaning to take the boy under his wing. The film then jumps into the future showing the boy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), graduating from the Police Academy. Graduating opposite Sullivan is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young man who grew up in a world of crime and has decided to try and change his fate. Sullivan eventually gets accepted into the Special Investigations Unit, where he acts as a mole for Frank Costello. Quickly flagged by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) as a man comfortable around crime, they enlist Costigan to infiltrate Costello’s operation as an undercover agent. As both Costigan and Sullivan delve deeper and deeper into their own fake identities, they are each giving opposite tasks. First Sullivan is just to be Costello’s eyes and ears in the police force and Costigan is tasked to try and bring down Costello’s operation from the inside. As both make mistakes and suspicions arise, Costigan is eventually asked to find the rat in the police force while Sullivan is ordered to find the rat in Costello’s gang. The two end up having to hunt each other.
While watching this film, I found it absolutely impossible to pick a best performance. Each time I had decided on an actor, another stepped on screen to change my mind. No matter how big or small the role, everybody came ready to prove their brilliance. Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin fit in perfectly as the head of the local undercover unit and head of an FBI task force respectively. Wahlberg played alongside Sheen, a ruthless asshole helping run Costigan’s undercover mission. Vera Farmiga stars as one of the only main, female characters in the film, playing the psychiatrist Madolyn. While Sullivan meets Madolyn one day in the elevator and the two start a long relationship together, Costigan is assigned to talk to Madolyn as a part of his fake firing so he could go undercover. The two eventually form an oddly inappropriate relationship that leads to Madoyln remaining in both the main character’s lives.
The three main characters of the film command the screen with the skill expected of such veteran actors. Nicholson embodies the rough and tough gangster, giving the man an almost bipolar personality. Controlling a gang of rough and tough mobsters, played by an intimitading crew of actors, Costello can be happy one moment and the next be brutally torturing a member of his crew. Damon and DiCaprio mirror each other perfectly through the film, playing two spies doing the same task for different sides. While Costigan begins in chaos, fighting through it to get a foothold in Costello’s gang, Damen seems to be perfectly in control in the film’s start. Costigan harnesses the increasing chaos around him to allow him to survive his time undercover while Damen’s loses his calm composure and lets his job and life spiral wildly out of control.
The Departed didn’t just win the 2006 Oscar for Best Motion Picture, it also delivered Scorsese his first win for Best Director. Already nominated for Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York and the Aviator, Scorsese finally beat out his competition and earned the well-deserved win. The Departed had to battle a number of different great films for title of best picture. Beating out Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine and the Queen, I can honestly say that the Departed deserved the win in 2006. With amazing performances and a soundtrack to die for, I give this Best Picture Winner a 10 out 10 and, if you can stomach a fair amount of brutal violence, would recommend it to any movie lover.