‘The Father’ Is A Difficult But Beautiful Piece Of Cinema: Review

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Olivia Coleman and Anthony Hopkins in The Father. Image shows 5 yellow stars

★★★★★

The Father is a beautiful film, which approaches the brutality of its subject with an impressive amount of care. 

The second adaptation of Florian Zeller’s 2012 play Le Père, The Father is both written and directed by Zeller himself, with fellow playwright Christopher Hampton co-writing. The film hit the world stage when it premiered at the illustrious Sundance Film Festival in January last year, where it immediately began to receive hefty plaudits from critics around the world. It was praised for its handling of a sensitive subject as well as for creating a remarkable, humbling story, and received six nominations at this year’s Oscars. Of course, Sir Anthony Hopkins won Best Male Actor for playing the titular character (who, confusingly, is also named Anthony), while Zellar and Hampton took home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. 

The Father, regrettably, will always have an albatross around its neck in the form of that slightly awkward moment at the most recent Oscars ceremony, as Hopkins received the nod in the Best Actor category despite widespread predictions that the late Chadwick Boseman would win posthumously. However, the controversy surrounding this incident should not reflect badly on the film, which more than deserves the accolades and recognition it has received.

This film is an admittedly difficult watch, but intentionally so. True, The Father still suffers slightly from being a traditional Oscar film in many ways; some viewers may not enjoy the monologues, the complicated plot and script, and all the other trappings that come with the territory—and that’s entirely understandable. All the same, the narrative constructed by Zeller and Hampton does an excellent job of displaying Anthony’s descent, with the viewer forced to play witness as his mind begins to slowly deteriorate. It’s bolstered by several other factors, too, including its superb production design—which becomes more and more mangled and disfigured as Anthony continues to lose his bearings—as well as absolutely outstanding individual performances by both Hopkins and Olivia Colman, who plays Anthony’s long-suffering daughter Anne.

Even the casting seems designed to wrong-foot both Anthony and the audience: Zeller’s decision to occasionally have two different actors play the same character, to represent Anthony losing control of his memory, is a masterstroke. It’s both a unique cinematic trick, and a clear method of showing how Anthony is becoming an increasingly fragile man, and losing trust in himself. It allows, too, for the tragic moments and break-downs to feel more realistic—and by extension, far more painful. One particular scene showcases this in absolutely fantastic fashion as Hopkins and Colman work brilliantly off of each other, in a heartbreaking face-off that pushes both actors to their limits. 

This would be a very different film, of course, without the excellent production design by Peter Francis, who has created an ever-changing environment to form a visual representation of Anthony’s psychological downward spiral. The set changes scene by scene, with key aspects of the rooms becoming tilted or slightly off, gradual and slight yet alarmingly disorientating. It’s a fabulous touch to a film that already does a great job of recreating the debilitating effects of an absolutely horrifying disease. 

Finally, and arguably most importantly, the acting in The Father is incredible. Hopkins does an outstanding job in his role as a spiraling dementia sufferer who cannot accept that he’s not the man he once was. Anthony is a man begging to have some sense of power back in his life—but since the cause of his powerlessness is an incurable disease, he can’t do anything. The resulting outbursts of anger and pain are excellent yet difficult watches.

However, it’s Colman who really steals the show here. The Broadchurch and The Favourite alumnus portrays a daughter who is desperately trying to keep her father as the man he once was, clinging to that hope through every outburst and collapse. There’s a constant, agonising sadness behind Colman’s eyes, and she really is the heart of the film thanks to such a dedicated performance.

The Verdict

The Father is a harrowing watch that many might find difficult to get through, and will doubtless remain an acquired taste for some despite its fantastic set, excellent writing and great performances. Regardless, this film is a fantastic piece of cinema, and is anchored by some truly terrific performances from Hopkins and Colman.

Words by Paul Dawson


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