Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) is a former baseball player, husband and father who threw it all away for a life on the road. In 1938, this alcoholic bum returns to his hometown of Albany, New York. The familiar streets bring to mind the guilt he still feels for causing the death of his infant son 22 years ago. And he is still troubled by the memory of a scab trolley car operator he killed with a stone thrown during a strike. Although he is a violent man, Francis is also a caretaker. There is genuine compassion in his concern for Helen (Meryl Streep), his street companion for many years and for Rudy (Tom Waits) another vagabond. After earning some money, Francis purchases a turkey and stops by to visit his wife (Carroll Baker) and children. It is his last shot at facing up to his terrible past and deciding whether or not there is a place for him in the family circle. Mixing realistic and surrealistic scenes, Argentinean director Hector Babenco puts the accent on what he calls the spiritual dimensions of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. He explains: "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." If you ride with the emotional undertow of Ironweed, there's no way you'll ever look at street people in quite the same way.
A screen translation of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, in which director Hector Babenco puts the accent on the story's spiritual dimensions.