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KRAMER VS KRAMER, 1979
Movie Review


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KRAMER VS KRAMERKRAMER VS KRAMER, 1979
Movie Reviews

Directed by Robert Benton

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, Jane Alexander, Howard Duff, JoBeth Williams, George Coe
Review by Russell Hill


SYNOPSIS:

A mother leaves her workaholic husband to cope with the demands of balancing his high-pressured job and caring for their young son.

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REVIEW:

Ever since I studied at College many years ago, I have been a fan of Dustin Hoffman. I suppose it was his role of naive Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate” which won me over but to be quite honest I see this movie to be his finest. Not that he isn’t surrounded by inferior cast members, but by some of the best performances I have seen in a movie which could have been made for television but Hollywood took it upon themselves to take a risk on a movie such as this. I sure am glad that decision was made.

On the outside, the Kramer’s seem a perfect family. Young son Billy (Henry) and doting mother Joanna (Streep) with caring father Ted (Hoffman) working all the hours he can grab, theirs is an affluent life in New York. But, not is all what it seems and arriving one evening Ted finds Joanna leaving him. Out the door without a word about the reason why, Ted finds himself a single parent and having to fend for Billy in ways which he has never had to do before. Balancing a heavy workload and a child who requires the guidance of Ted takes a lot of doing. Will Ted ever succeed in carrying off this balance? Or will Joanna return to the frame and try to claim a stake in their lives once more?

Winner of five Oscars at the 1980 Academy Awards that included Best Actor for Hoffman, Best Actress for Streep and a nomination for Henry for Best Supporting Actor, this is melodrama at its finest which demonstrates that Hoffman sure can act with the best of them. Despite not possessing the typical Hollywood look (he does after all possess a large nose, crooked teeth and untidy hair) he does have the thespian stamina of Cary Grant and talent of Humphrey Bogart. He emerged as a star when the Hollywood suits were looking to the kids for answers, and Hoffman was one of the leading lights of this youthful revolution in the Golden Hills. Here, what we as cinephiles of the world witness, is an acting class of the highest order which we should have paid a much higher tuition fee for. When a husband is left by his wife for whatever reason, the conflicting emotions which run through their mind must be sickeningly fraught. What Hoffman does well here is that he transports his emotions onto the character of Ted and gives his own interpretation of what a man like this would be going through. Whether it is easy watching or not, it is a riveting performance which is both delightful and shocking.

Streep certainly deserved her Oscar here. Not the most emotionally calm characters you will ever see, Joanna does not appear that extensively throughout the movie as this story is mainly about Ted and Billy’s relationship but the somewhat limited screen time Streep has is lapped up rather beautifully. For once, her accent in this movie is American but talent normally seen by her European counterparts. I do not know what to feel when watching Joanna. Is it hate for leaving her family behind? Or perhaps pity for someone who doesn’t want to leave her Billy but has to for her own sanity? Whatever you believe when watching a character such as hers portraying such emotions which countless others must experience on a daily basis across the world is a different matter altogether but what we must praise Streep for is giving performance such as this as it really is quite remarkable.

At eight years old, Justin Henry set a benchmark for fellow youthful thespians here as he became the youngest person to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor. And who can blame the Academy for their choice here as what a performance he gives. I myself come from the UK and the talent seen by our younger actors and actresses is somewhat lacking. Take a look at the first Harry Potter movie and you see utter tripe. Okay, Ron isn’t too bad but it looks as though Hermione and Harry have eaten their fair share of excrement and expressing it in front of camera. Now, look at Henry’s performance and you see someone who really should have become a household name. This being his only role I know of, this lack of further recognition is a cinematic tragedy but at least he had his fifteen minutes of fame here. Which is far more than some people get so who could blame the guy for it?

But hey, not only do these three aforementioned actors demonstrate that they are worthy of being cast in a classic such as this but also Ted’s boss Jim (George Coe). The bad guy of the movie, he never sees Ted’s side and Jim always tries to be his friend but fails miserably on several counts. Coe is a much respected actor who is still honing his craft today, and it is in roles like this one in the form of Jim that he must have gained further accreditation from his peers and the cinema-going public. The only other main character I can see in this movie is Ted and Joanna’s friend Phyllis (JoBeth Williams). Just like Joanna but even less, her screen time is minimal and is someone who Ted finds comfort in due to her having experienced the same many years before. This side of Ted which Phyllis brings out of him is, I guess, soul refreshing due to how close they are without matters ever turning sexual.

A fine movie if ever I saw one, this is not exactly designed for those who like John McClane blowing up a terrorist or Rambo destroying a Vietnamese Soldier but to those who appreciate a fine story when acted by those who know how to portray such characters in the best light possible. But, even if you are not the former or latter, just watch the movie for its sheer enjoyment. I highly recommend you do so.



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