Ironweed (1987)

R  |   |  Drama  |  February 1988 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.8/10 from 5,966 users  
Reviews: 42 user | 24 critic

A schizophrenic drifter spends Halloween in his home town after returning there for the first time in decades.



(novel), (screenplay)
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jake Dengel ...
Laura Esterman ...
Hy Anzell ...


Albany, New York, Halloween, 1938. Francis Phelan and Helen Archer are bums, back in their birth city. She was a singer on the radio, he a major league pitcher. Death surrounds them: she's sick, a pal has cancer, he digs graves at the cemetery and visits the grave of his infant son whom he dropped; visions of his past haunt him, including ghosts of two men he killed. That night, out drinking, Helen tries to sing at a bar. Next day, Fran visits his wife and children and meets a grandson. He could stay, but decides it's not for him. Helen gets their things out of storage and finds a hotel. Amidst their mistakes and dereliction, the film explores their code of fairness and loyalty. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

February 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tallo de hierro  »

Box Office


$27,000,000 (estimated)


$7,393,346 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film's director, Argentinean Hector Babenco, has said of this picture: "It is a movie that tries to embrace the territories of love, and it's also about the courage and beauty of people we don't usually think of as having deep and complex emotions". See more »


The movies takes place in 1938. The diner used in the movie, Miss Albany Diner, is a Silk City model manufactured in 1941. See more »


Francis Phelan: Goddamn dead men, traveling around together.
See more »


Referenced in Parks and Recreation: New Slogan (2014) See more »


He's Me Pal
Performed by Meryl Streep
See more »

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User Reviews

A touchstone for the baby-boom generation
20 October 2005 | by (Oakland, CA) – See all my reviews

As a boomer myself, this movie made me recall my uncles from my mother's side of the family -- men from the wrong side of the tracks who were scarred by the Depression. I anticipate that others in my age group will share my sense of deja vu.

The story is sad, yet in these heartless modern times, when families eat their prepackaged dinners in separate rooms, watching TV or surfing the Web, the viewer feels nostalgia even for the Depression because experiences were shared deeply with others.

This film is about loss -- loss of family and of love -- and about the hard times that made these heartbreaks even more wrenching. The Depression has been portrayed more accurately here than in any movie in my memory.

The writing is exemplary, as is the set design and camera work. But it's the the performances that shine brightest. Not only those of Nicholson and Streep, from whom you expect greatness (this movie was shot before Nicholson started playing himself). Watch for stunning vignettes by Tom Waits, who can act far better than he can sing, and a show-stopper by the fine character actor Jake Dengel.

In our postliterate time, when attempts at drama come off more like caricatures, and people's ability to relate to each other is only Blackberry-deep, the experience of watching a film about the human experience as it used to be is one to be treasured.

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