By Tammy Ruggles
The Father is an Oscar-nominated film starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, directed by Florian Zeller. This is a very nice movie, but is Anthony Hopkins’ performance Oscar-worthy? This movie is about a father played by Anthony Hopkins, stricken by dementia and is cared for by his daughter, who is burdened in a way that prevents her life from moving forward. He insists that he doesn’t need help, and this is only the beginning of their problems. The conflicts are compelling, realistic, and empathetic, but I think the role of the father was miscast. A lesser-known but equally talented actor may have served the role better, because when Anthony Hopkins is on screen, that’s all I think about: “Oh, look. There’s Anthony Hopkins”. I don’t find Hopkins disappearing into this role as deeply as I would have hoped for. He’s a phenomenal actor, but much too iconic for this part. The actress playing his daughter, Colman, did a fine job.
Overall, the movie as a whole works, and I can see its appeal and appreciate its message, but even the final scene, which was meant to be powerful and touching, seems overwrought by Hopkins and ultimately unconvincing, at least to me, because I didn’t feel that it was a character crying, but Anthony Hopkins crying. There may be spoilers ahead, so read on with fair warning.
What I did like most about the film was the screenplay, and the directing. As we watch and follow the story, we fall into the director’s cleverly designed web of deception, with intentionally misleading moments, characters, and locations that put the audience in the father’s shoes, where we feel the same confusion as he does. This is thoughtful planning, and it definitely works in this film, reminding me somewhat of the slight but effective trickery used in Shutter Island. In The Father, sometimes you aren’t sure if what is shown to you on screen is the father’s reality, or his dementia. You find yourself asking, “Did he really just talk to that person? Is that person real? Is he even in his own home? Is he imagining conversations with his daughter and caretakers? Where is he really?” I love the psychology at play.
The character of the father is exceptionally well-written and empathetic. Anyone who’s cared for a parent with failing mental faculties can relate. This film is at times painful to witness. You will be infuriated when he is slapped, and be brought to tears when you realize that the slap will never be acknowledged or dealt with by anyone else, ever, as it will most likely be forgotten by the father. I can think of no better way of explaining dementia than the way this director has. It speaks for itself, reminding us that showing is always better than telling. If you’ve ever wanted to explain dementia to a class, family, or caregiver, show them this film.
The Father is a good example of a former stage play that feels nothing like a stage play at all when it hits the screen, unlike Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which felt like a stage play from start to finish, and was so choked with monologues (albeit important and powerful ones), that it felt more like a lecture than a biopic. But that’s another review for another film. The Father is an excellent film that I highly recommend.