Ironweed (1987) - Rotten Tomatoes


Ironweed (1987)



Critic Consensus: Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep play masterfully off each, but Ironweed's unrelenting bleakness proves to be more monotonous than compelling.

Ironweed Photos

Movie Info

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.

Watch it now


Jack Nicholson
as Francis Phelan
Meryl Streep
as Helen Archer
Carroll Baker
as Annie Phelan
Michael O'Keefe
as Billy Phelan
Diane Venora
as Peg Phelan
Fred Gwynne
as Oscar Reo
Jake Dengel
as Pee Wee
Nathan Lane
as Harold Allen
James Gammon
as Rev. Chester
Will Zahrn
as Rowdy Dick
Ean Ehas
as Danny
Phyllis Guttung
as Old Woman
Hy Anzell
as Rosskam
Bethel Leslie
as Librarian
Louise Phillips
as Flower Girl
Marjorie Slocum
as Elderly Woman
Lena Spencer
as Slatternly Woman
Lola Pashalinski
as Fat Woman with Turkey
Jared Swartout
as Guard Captain
Ted Levine
as Pocono Pete
Martin Patterson
as Foxy Phil Tooker
Terry O'Reilly
as Aldo Campione
Michael O'Gorman
as Strike Leader
Frank Whaley
as Young Francis
Jordan Valdina
as Youth at Strike
Louis St. Louis
as Piano Man
Cori Irwin
as Young Girl
Phyllis Gottung
as Old Woman
James Yoham
as Bald Man
Ean Egas
as Danny
Jeff Morris
as Michigan Mac
View All

Critic Reviews for Ironweed

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (11)

Perhaps the heart of the matter is the false lure of the original: some books, such as Ironweed despite strung visual incidents and an almost palpable sense of place, just do not translate to the screen.

January 28, 2020 | Full Review…

If you enjoyed Richard E Grant and Melissa McCarthy as on-the-skids New Yorkers in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, here's an even starrier example of Hollywood poverty porn.

December 3, 2019 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Good performances, but If you're looking for an uplifting tale of hope against despair, look elsewhere.

December 19, 2011 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Watching "Ironweed" is like having a large, metal object lodged in your brain for 2 1/2 hours. It hurts.

December 19, 2011

The film becomes becalmed and confusing; it lacks the novel's great unwavering trajectory.

December 19, 2011 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

Unrelentingly bleak, Ironweed is a film without an audience and no reason for being except its own self-importance.

March 26, 2009 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Ironweed

It looks like it was made by anyone, since Babenco directs it without any passion or conviction and wastes Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep in a tiring narrative that becomes so unnecessarily long with a lot of scenes that could have been cut without any damage to the story.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Nicholson and Streep simply just can't do it. What a tragedy for the finest actors of their generation. The script writer is at fault as this film bobs and weaves out of the control of its leads.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

Brilliantly acted but profundly sad. A sense of gloom hangs heavily over the entire film.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

Ironweed Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features