[AFI 2020] THE FATHER -- A Terrifying and Emotional Drama with a Brilliant Turn from Anthony Hopkins
Review by Sean Boelman
Movies adapted from stage plays are typically breeding grounds for phenomenal performances, and Florian Zeller’s The Father brings one of the year’s best from Anthony Hopkins. Simple yet powerful in its storytelling and benefitting from Hopkins’s brilliant presence, this is the type of refined and mature drama that not only will get but deserves the awards attention.
The film follows an aging man who suffers from dementia as he loses his grip on reality when his daughter suggests that they hire a new aide. Although this isn’t a horror movie, it is arguably one of the scariest of the year because of the way in which it captures the anxiety and dread of losing control of oneself and one’s own world.
Zeller’s narrative structure is definitely unique, with segmented interactions coming together to form the story out of order. It’s an intriguing way of telling this tale, emphasizing the protagonist’s disorientation with his environment and the fact that, even though there is a sense of normalcy to some of his moments, life doesn’t make sense to him in the greater scheme of things.
That said, the theatrical-like nature comes at the sacrifice of subtlety. Much of the character development is delivered through expositional dialogue. Frequent talk of another daughter that led to trauma is interesting but is lacking in depth. This could have added a further layer of humanity to the film’s exploration of dementia.
The relationship between the two leads is also somewhat underdeveloped. One of the most intriguing storylines features the character questioning his daughter’s identity because she is not how he remembers her. It’s arguably the most heartbreaking portion of the movie, and yet Zeller and his co-writer Christopher Hampton don’t take full advantage of it.
Hopkins is undeniably the highlight of the film, and the amount of praise he is getting is earned. Although it may not be his most memorable work, what makes it so wonderful is that he effectively blends into his role with subtlety and nuance, as opposed to his most iconic turns, in which his mannerisms really defined the characters.
Some of the other actors also give great performances, including Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, and Olivia Williams, but this is very much a showcase for Hopkins. Similarly, the execution is uniformly strong, but Hopkins is so astounding that viewers will be wrapped up in every word he says rather than the (also very good) cinematography and editing.
The Father is a great movie, but Anthony Hopkins is able to take it from simply being impressive to being outright exceptional. Hopkins continues to prove that he is one of the most talented actors of all time, especially when he is given material as conducive as this.
The Father screened at the 2020 AFI FEST which runs virtually October 15-22.