The Father review – a work of empathic genius

December 27, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews


Florian Zeller’s The Father is an act of empathic genius.



Florian Zeller’s The Father is an act of empathic genius.

There are very few film experiences like Florian Zeller’s The Father. He has made a film, based on his play, that has cleverly communicated the feelings of our beloved, older adult relatives in a freshly structured way. He takes you inside the mind of a dementia patient experiencing so much emotionally raw pain and then receiving such tender mercy. His film is devastating and narratively brilliant. It’s one of the very best films of 2020.

An older adult male, a charming gentleman named Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), is having memory lapses. His daughter, Anna (Olivia Colman), is worried about him. He is, as Katherine Hepburn would say, a stubborn “old poop,” who refuses any help she graciously and tirelessly sets up for him. Anna is in desperate need of help since she is leaving for France soon with her new husband, Paul (played by Dark City‘s Rufus Sewell).

Anthony gets agitated quickly and charming the next, all while firing the staff (one played by The Art of Self-Defense’s Imogen Poots) and even getting physically aggressive when the agitation comes back. He wants to make amends with his daughter when she comes back home, but when she does come home, Anne is a similar-looking, but completely different person (Rushmore’s Olivia Williams, a brilliant piece of casting). He begins to question his sanity, his family’s intentions, and even what is real and what isn’t.

Zeller, a renowned playwright who has been called the most exciting one of our time, wrote The Father as a play that went on to massive acclaim. He teamed up with Christopher Hampton (Academy Award-nominated for Dangerous Liaisons), an esteemed playwright on his own, to write the finest adaptation this year. It’s highly intricate and wickedly clever in its structure. The world they have created is like getting caught up in a giant mindfuck of his brain’s doing; like endless hotel room floors and every door leads to a new hallway.

The acting here is exceptional and why wouldn’t it be? With Anthony Hopkins, his portrayal of a man whose brain is not firing on all cylinders is completely riveting. It’s so deeply felt and moving it will bring the most cynical of us to tears or, at least, leave a giant grapefruit-sized lump to your throat. It may be his finest performance in a long line of great ones.

The rest of the cast does a fine job listening and reacting to every one of Hopkin’s words and actions. Olivia Colman is in fine form and she is responsible for most of the “straight” acting scenes Hopkins plays off of. I also want to mention Williams, who may be the closest thing a film has to a closer in baseball. Her performance brings a calming and tender influence that has the viewer walk away with awe-inspiring satisfaction. It’s a tricky role and it brings a great sense of closure to the film.

The entire film is a magic trick; a dangerous, mature, and cunning movie-making adroitness that would make Keyser Söze give a Mr. Mayagi nod of appreciation (yes, I went for two wildly different film references there). For Zeller to have the dexterity to accomplish what he did here is a gift. To let his work, for a second, pass you by before it’s too late would be a tragedy.

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