The Father Movie Review: Anthony Hopkins’ Stunning Performance Anchors Oscar-Winning Drama, Now in India | Hollywood
Watching The Father is like watching a particularly good episode of Black Mirror, without any technological paranoia. It is an ingeniously directed film by Florian Zellner, about the descent of an elderly man into dementia and the emotional fallout his condition causes in his family.
We watch Anthony (played in an Oscar-winning performance by Anthony Hopkins) spend his day in his spectacular London apartment, displaying obvious signs of mental illness. Having lost his watch, he launches into a tirade about a thief medic. Her daughter Anne, played by Olivia Colman, seems exhausted by it all, and makes weak attempts to appease her. It’s as if they’ve had these conversations many times before.
Watch the trailer for The Father here:
This is Zellner’s feature debut, and what he’s capable of emotionally evoking the kind of skill veterans of the game often struggle to display. Armed with Hopkins’ astonishing performance, Zellner creates a sense of claustrophobia and disorientation simply by the staging, and a creative twist so brilliantly Hitchcockian that I wonder why it isn’t used more often.
The first time the film swapped actors, baffling both Anthony and the audience, I was stunned. He is shocked and is silent looking at a woman who says she is his daughter, but who is totally unrecognizable to him. Not only does this immediately reflect Anthony’s degree of illness, but it forges an imperceptible bond between him and the viewer. Now that you know (almost) exactly how he feels, how can you not take care of him?
It’s heartbreaking, but also terrifying. Having established this approach, Zellner returns to it at regular intervals, as it increases the feeling of being trapped. Even at around 90 minutes, The Father is emotionally draining. The mind is man’s greatest weapon and weakness, the film says, and Zellner has yours entirely under his command.
It’s deeply uncomfortable to lose free will, and for an hour and a half, Zellner creates the illusion (however tiny) of what Anthony is going through. The geography of Anthony’s apartment changes; the furniture moves; the characters come out of the left frame and into the right frame scene, looking like totally different people. You don’t know who to believe. But the Father is never an exploiter; it never feels like a paranoid thriller, even if it does at times.
And that’s where Hopkins’ performance comes in. At 83, he appears to be sharper than ever, which adds to the dramatic irony of the story, as does Zellner and co-writer Christopher Hampton’s decision to rename the central character in his honor (he was named André in the play on which The Father is based). How Hopkins is able to capture not only Anthony’s frustration with remembering details big and small, but also his fear and helplessness, is something that cannot be expressed in words. Or, at least, not by me.
Comparisons to his King Lear have (rightly) been made, but here the actor is required to do the heavy lifting without the support of Shakespeare’s lyrics. Watch his eyes as they register shock for the first time, then again and again. Witness his pride as he demands respect, perhaps remembering, for a brief moment, who he was (we are never told). Or maybe he is afraid of the man he is becoming.
The Father could just as well have been called The Daughter; it is as much the story of Anne as that of Anthony. One has the impression that she devoted her life to her father, to the detriment of his own. Her last resort decision to drop Anthony off at a nursing home, an idea that is pitched with growing conviction throughout the film, may seem cruel, but that’s exactly the dilemma Anne struggles with.
And then there’s Rufus Sewell, who appears as Anne’s husband. Sewell is a pro at playing mischievous upper-class Englishmen, and he seems to have taken mental notes of Hopkins’ performance and reproduced pieces of it in M Night Shyamalan’s Old, in which he plays a doctor with dementia premature. In many ways, the sense of unease Zellner evokes in The Father is reminiscent of what Shayamalan could generate many years ago.
Also read: The Two Popes Movie Review: God Bless Netflix For Completing 2019 With This Heavenly Movie
When I first heard about this movie, I assumed it would be another one of those emotionally manipulative Oscar bait dramas from the UK – its terrible poster certainly did nothing to dispel that. notion. And yes, it can get a little overwhelming in its tragic final moments, but it’s a dazzling film that just can’t be missed.
Director – Florian Zellner
To throw – Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots
To follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @RohanNaahar
The Father is available to stream in India on LionsgatePlay