KRAMER VS. KRAMER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, Jane Alexander
Director: Robert Benton
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Theatrical Trailer, Documentary, Filmographies
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: August 28, 2001
may not want to hear this right now, but it took a lot of courage for her to
“Oh, yeah? And how much courage does it take to walk out on your kid?”
the stenographer in Kramer vs. Kramer, who was a real court reporter,
spoke to Dustin Hoffman about her work, he asked her if she had seen many
divorce cases. Too many, she
replied, and she very much hated them, because they were far too painful.
She claimed to be much happier in her current position.
What was that, Hoffman wondered? “Homicides,”
is indeed a terrible procedure to go through for two people who once loved each
other. It becomes even harder when
children are involved. That’s why
Kramer vs. Kramer has held such a special place in my heart for more than
twenty years. No other picture
before it explored the subject of divorce with as much honesty and compassion.
No movie has since, either, and frankly, there’s not much point in
trying. This film, written for the
screen and directed by Robert Benton, really says everything there is to say.
no melodrama at play here at all, simply quiet, agonizing heartbreak.
As the movie opens on a luminously sad image of Joanna Kramer (Streep)
repeating “I love you” to her little son, Billy (Henry), we don’t know
what’s wrong. We get an
impression of her life as her husband Ted (Hoffman) breezes in, and barely
notices that she’s packed and leaving him. The movie shows its courage in numerous ways here:
one, our glimpse of Joanna is fleeting, but manages to be enough to stay
in our minds for a long while, which is crucial.
Two, we’re looking at a couple where there’s no infidelity, no
alcohol or drug abuse, no financial problems, and no violence, which are the
easy roads most pictures take. Here
are two people whose problems run much deeper than any surface categorization.
is a wunderkind ad executive who, for the first time in his life, is in a
position to have a relationship with his son.
The opening breakfast scene is funny and touching, as Ted tries to keep
smiling and ad-libbing, though he can’t do anything right.
He may be the best with his clients, but he’s nervous and like a
stranger with his own kid.
heart of the movie is Ted’s evolution as the values and dynamics of his life
slowly change. With hopes of his
wife’s return fading more every day, the career oriented Ted has to learn to
be father and mother to Billy. It’s
a learning process. He isn’t
always patient, he’s sometimes still self-absorbed, and he doesn’t always do
the right thing. A memorable scene
pushes both of them to the edge, when Billy defies his father about some ice
cream. “I hate you!” he screams
and cries. “I want my mommy!” “I’m all you’ve got!” Ted retorts as he slams the
door. But this leads to one of the
film’s many heart-wrenching scenes, when he apologizes and tries to make his
son understand that his mother didn’t leave because of him, Billy, but because
he, Ted, failed.
eighteen months, Ted really changes. He’s
no longer the workaholic that put him at the top of his game, nor is he even AT
the top of his game anymore. But
he’s developed a close, loving relationship with his little boy that nothing
can threaten. Nothing, that is,
until a broken hearted Joanna returns to their lives and announces she wants her
remains the film’s most enigmatic figure.
When I was a kid and saw the picture for the first time, I didn’t feel
much sympathy for her. It seemed to
my young mind that the time to venture out and find yourself is before you have
a child dependant on you. What
could be worse for a kid than to have his mother just walk out on him?
I chalked her up as selfish.
understand many more things in life these days, including depression, low self
esteem, and loss of personal identity. When
Joanna first leaves, you can feel the pain dripping from every word as she
answers Ted about Billy: “He’s
better off without me.” It’s
clear she’s at a point where she can’t go any lower, though the film never
explores the history of this marriage any deeper than a few courtroom statements
during the finale. And I actually
like that about the film…it’s very present-oriented.
It’s not concerned with how a marriage comes apart, only with the
aftermath and how it affects all involved, even the innocents.
And if Joanna makes some bad judgment calls in the picture, Ted certainly
does to. Both are human, and
venturing into uncharted waters.
Hoffman gives what I personally consider the best performance of his career as
Ted. The role won him his first
Academy Award, and it was well deserved. Ted
is one of the most complex of movie characters, and he’s that way because
he’s one of the most real. Going
through his own divorce at the same time he made the movie must have been
difficult, but he never shied away from the pain, the anger, or the fear the
part made him confront and harness. Also
good are the magnificent Meryl Streep, who works miracles with small amounts of
screen time, and newcomer Justin Henry, who became the youngest person ever
nominated for an Oscar with his performance.
film instantly became a part of American consciousness, and has never really
left it in the years since. It
hasn’t grown less topical with time; if anything, it’s become even more so.
It hasn’t aged. It hasn’t lost potency.
By forgoing the most obvious stirrings of melodrama and instead
concentrating on simple human truths treated with real emotion, it remains as
moving today as it ever was, and maintains its place as a true American
an impressive anamorphic transfer! I
didn’t expect much, given the age of the film, and given that I never really
recalled it as being cinematographically impressive, but I was quite wrong.
I’ve never seen this picture look so good for home video before, and I
was actually surprised to see how much detail and effort actually went into the
set designs, lighting, and art direction. Colors
are perfectly natural looking throughout and well rendered, and images are
sharply drawn with excellent levels of detail.
Flesh tones are remarkable, but even more noticeable is how different
shades of one color in a scene take on slightly different hues; each rendered
with integrity and adding a nice dynamic to the visuals.
Grain is only barely seen in one or two very bright shots, but it isn’t
a distraction. Overall, this is a
very commendable effort.
soundtrack is mostly dialogue oriented, and as such, the mono soundtrack is
perfectly serviceable. You don’t
get car crashes or explosions, so you won’t miss your surrounds, your dynamic
range, or your lower levels while you watch.
main feature is a good one: a new retrospective documentary featuring recent
interviews with Robert Benton, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, Jane
Alexander and more. Hoffman offers
plenty of insights into his acting approach for this movie, including improvised
moments and the coaching of young Mr. Henry in his role.
There is also a trailer and some filmographies.