The Father

Tensions between Anne (Olivia Coleman) and her boyfriend Paul (Rufus Sewell) begin to flare because he resents her new house guest, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), “The Father.”

Laura's Review: A

Anne’s not having the easiest time either, having had to move her dad into her own apartment because of his constant episodes with one carer after another.  Anthony has moments of great lucidity and charm, but his dementia affects his mood and he accuses carers of having stolen the watch he misplaces.  This is alarmingly evident to Laura (Imogen Poots), the young woman he positively flirts with while she’s being interviewed, only to snap at when she arrives on the actual job.  Anne, too, feels the pain, her dad continually talking about a deceased sister, Lucy, who was clearly his favorite.

After a while, though, we begin to notice confusion at a higher level.  We have seen Anne tell her father that she will eventually be moving to Paris to be with a boyfriend, but she later denies this.  When she goes out to get a chicken for dinner, another woman (Olivia Williams) returns.  We begin to notice that details around this apartment keep changing and realize we are perceiving everything from Anthony’s point of view in a slipstream of consciousness mixing the past with the present.

“The Father” is a dazzling filmmaking debut, director Florian Zeller adapting his own stage play (with "Atonement's" Christopher Hampton) with incredible panache.  There have been many films about Alzheimer’s and dementia, even some from the sufferer’s perspective, but none have so completely submerged us into their world.  The film should be required viewing for anyone who has ever had to deal with this disease as it nurtures empathy and understanding like nothing that has come before.  Not only do we experience the confusion and resultant loss of control Anthony is experiencing, but side effects like the occasional impatience it produces in his carers and the outright abuse secretly visited upon him by Paul.

Anthony Hopkins is undoubtedly a great actor, albeit one is has sometimes overindulged his ham bone, but he has never been better than he is here.  He can twinkle and flirt one moment and send a painful jolt of familiarity to those who have experienced a loved one slipping away the next.  He makes us feel his desperation while recognizing his attempts to present a calm exterior.   Failure to do so result in rages, rages Hopkins has given us the empathy to understand.  It is a masterful, emotionally wrenching performance.

And while the actors who support Hopkins are all top notch, especially Colman’s infinitely patient and loving Anne, it is the production itself which showcases his performance like a flawless diamond.  Production design (Peter Francis, "The Children Act") utilizes one space to act as three, art directors dressing the sets with changes both subtle and striking.  Yorgos Lamprinos’ editing spirits us from one setting to another with a turn of Hopkins’ head. Costume aids establishment of both mood and place.  Zeller directs the whole like a dance occurring on a moving platform without missing a step.

“The Father” is not to be missed, one of the very best of 2020.

Robin's Review: B+

Sony Pictures Classics opens "The Father" in NY and LA on 2/26 and nationwide on 3/12/2021.