Starring Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell
Of all the recent plays adapted into feature films, “The Father” stands tall as the most impressive. Equally impressive is the directorial debut of Florian Zeller, who unlike other first-time directors this season, displays natural cinematic gifts. “The Father” is a literal mind-bending mystery about a man suffering from dementia/Alzheimer’s, or is he? In a sensational performance that ranks among his best work, Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers a performance that tests his abilities at every level. The role requires the Oscar-winning actor to tap into a profusion of emotions, often within the same scene. Hopkins has been a staple in the best actor race for his performance this year, as has co-star Olivia Colman, back on the awards trail after winning best actress in 2019 for “The Favourite.”
“Everything is fine Anne,” Anthony (Hopkins) says to his daughter (Colman). The well-to-do gentleman lives in a very nice flat in London, where he understands his only daughter Anne is abruptly moving to Paris for a man. Moments later Anthony is shocked at having a conversation with his daughter's husband, who claims they have been married for ten years. “Nonsense,” he exclaims, convinced someone is playing a joke or “cooking something up.” Some of Anthony’s possessions and money begin to disappear, bedrooms and furniture change from day to day, strange people come and go in and out of his flat, with little to no explanation from his daughter. Anne hires someone to help calm her father, and initially, the young Laura (Poots) and Anthony hit things off, but quickly take a dark turn.
“The Father” could easily have been just a performance vehicle for Hopkins and Colman, but Zeller’s interest in using the camera in unconventional ways for a drama of this type heightens everything about it.
“The Father” is much more than a “is he or isn’t he demented” plot. It has a subtle genius embedded within the filmmaking that might be lost on the passive viewer. Careful attention to detail must be noted as minor items like paintings, furnishings, wall color, rugs, sometimes all change within a scene or a take. Think M. Night Shymalan but without all the genre stuff. Curiosity is what leads the viewer forward in “The Father” and regardless of how lost you might be on what’s actually happening, the ending thoroughly explains everything. “The Father” could easily have been just a performance vehicle for Hopkins and Colman, but Zeller’s interest in using the camera in unconventional ways for a drama of this type heightens everything about it.
Depending on your age or experience with aging, “The Father” will affect you differently. While "Still Alice" has long been the quintessential dementia film, “The Father” brings a unique approach to the conversation. Zeller’s puzzle-like unraveling uses editing in a particular way to convey confusion and disorder. It could be argued that editing, in this film, is as important as the acting. Zeller wrote the screenplay specifically for Hopkins, which is why the character’s name is Anthony. He admitted the film likely wouldn’t have worked or even been made if the iconic 83-year-old had turned down the role.
The Father, its performances and superior editing skills make it one of the most impressive films in the awards race and a must-see.