Getting old sucks. It seems like yesterday I was counting how many more years I had before graduating high school. Now I’m counting how many pills, drops and supplements I have to take each day. At least I’ve still got my wits about me, at least I think I do. That’s one of the blessings as well as one of the curses of getting old. You’re the last to know if you’ve lost your mind.
Anthony (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, THOR: RAGNAROK; NOAH; SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) is the eponymous character in THE FATHER. The 83-year-old (the date Anthony gives as his date of birth is the same as Hopkins’ own) lives with his adult daughter, Anne (Oscar winner Olivia Colman, THE FAVOURITE; THE LOBSTER; TV’s THE CROWN), in a spacious flat in London. Anthony, however, suffers from dementia, and he frequently blurs the lines between reality and fiction and the present and the past. Anne finds his condition difficult to manage and she’s hired carers to come in during the day but they never last long. Anthony’s erratic behaviour, coupled with his refusal to give up his independence, proves to be too much of a hassle for these young women and they quit. Now Anne is at a crossroads. She’s moving to Paris and won’t be around to look after him. She needs to come up with a solution that works for both of them.
Directed by first-timer Florian Zeller, who co-wrote the screenplay based on his own play of the same name, THE FATHER very effectively puts viewers into Anthony’s head as the old man tries to process what he believes to be true. Characters, including Anne, are played by multiple actors, and actors play multiple characters, pushing us to continually question what is real and what is not, and what is current and what is in the past. Is Anne married or not? Is she going to Paris or staying in London? Does the latest carer really look like Anne’s sister, Lucy? Whose flat is this – Anne’s or Anthony’s? Was that picture ever above the mantle or has someone moved it to mess with Anthony’s sense of security? Even the severity of Anthony’s condition is up for debate. When we first meet him, his dementia seems mild, and Anne reacts to his outbursts and forgetfulness as if this is relatively new to both of them. As the story progresses, however, even that comes in for some reassessment.
Hopkins delivers a masterclass performance here. Would this not be the late Chadwick Boseman’s year for the Best Actor Oscar, Hopkins would be a shoo-in to win. He gives audiences a brilliantly empathetic portrayal of an intelligent, sophisticated, loving and self-sufficient man who can’t understand why his world is changing and is powerless to stop it. When he seems lucid, the old Anthony is still there, enjoying his classical music or turning on the charm for a prospective new carer. Then, like a flick of a switch, he’s belligerent towards Anne and distrustful of the motives of the other people he thinks he’s talking to. Colman, though not in the same league as Hopkins, is still solid, showing a wide range of emotions that includes love, support, pain, exhaustion and loss of what once was. My only beef with the story comes from Anne often behaving like Anthony woke up that morning with dementia. It doesn’t work that way and I question why she is often surprised at what he says. Another character, introduced late in the story, reacts to Anthony in a more reasonable way.)
THE FATHER is superb. It opens in Hong Kong’s cinemas tomorrow (April 8th). This is a must-see film.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, April 9th, 8:30 am HK time!
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