REVIEW: The Father (2021)

Sir Anthony Hopkins in Florian Zeller’s THE FATHER — Photo: Sean Gleason / Sony Pictures Classics.

Directed by Florian Zeller — Screenplay by Florian Zeller & Christopher Hampton.

Based on his own play of the same name (Le Père), The Father is the film directorial debut of Florian Zeller, a French novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. The film follows an elderly man suffering from progressing dementia, Anthony (played by Anthony Hopkins), as he lives with his daughter, Anne (played by Olivia Colman), and her partner. Anthony’s shifting moods and memory disorders have made it difficult for caregivers to take care of him, so Anne has put her life on hold to take care of him. But, as he is losing his grip on reality, Anne informs him that she may have to move to Paris and leave him in London.

As you may know at this point, The Father is already a highly celebrated film. At the 93rd Academy Awards, which honored films from 2020 and select films from early 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it received six nominations and won two awards — Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor — both of which, I can now say, were awards it deserved to win. This film is quite frankly incredible. Its writing and its dialogue feel very precise, the attention to detail to illustrate the main character’s confusion is impeccable, and it is just outright frightening.

I can say that it is one of the scariest films that I have ever seen, even though it isn’t a horror film. The Father is a psychological drama, but the way it communicates Anthony’s headspace feels disorientating and frightening. It’s something you don’t want to think about, you don’t want it to happen to anyone, you don’t ever want to be put in that headspace, you don’t want anyone to be put in that headspace, but the film makes you think about it and it makes you feel a similar confusion. Characters can look different — be different actors — from one scene to the next. The kitchen changes. Every room Anthony is in changes ever so slightly and sometimes massively. Even when he isn’t home, it looks like his home. The structure of the film is heavily fragmented, which also illustrates the confusion.

A lesser version of this film would’ve had a massive twist, but, thankfully, there isn’t one in The Father. Something much scarier happens here, which is that the imperfections of reality and of people come to light. The cruelty, the obliviousness, and the frailty of man are highlighted here through various characters. But, on the flip-side, I also think it emphasizes just how pivotal and patient caregivers can be. I think the film illustrates how terrifying it is to live with dementia and how painful it can be to care for people suffering from it. The film always feels human, and it is that realism that makes it scary.

The film has a relatively small cast, but I think they are uniformly solid. In lesser roles, Olivia Williams, Mark Gatiss, and Rufus Sewell are all quite good, and Imogen Poots is radiant as one of Anthony’s caregivers. Olivia Colman, in the most major supporting role, captures the overwhelming pain (but also the occasional small moments of joy) of living with someone in this situation. Of course, though, it is Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance that the film rests on, and he is so, so good. In what may be his career’s best-ever performance (it is certainly, at the very least, up there with The Silence of the Lambs), he is magnificent and even unpredictable as this character. He made me sob, he made me laugh, but mostly I was just in awe. The way his character can flip on a dime when he is in a bad mood is seamlessly delivered by Hopkins. I truly believe Hopkins is flawless here.

The one and only issue I have with this film is that it definitely feels like an adaptation of a stage play. But, thankfully, I don’t think that fact takes too much away from the experience of watching the film itself. Florian Zeller’s directorial debut is simply an extraordinary, heartbreaking, and, frankly, terrifying performance-driven psychological drama. It deserves all the praise it has ben getting.

9 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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