Film Review: ‘The Father’ Gets Two Hits

The April Academy Awards ceremony was somewhat upended by the Oscar for Best Actor not going to the expected winner Chadwick Boseman (although he was honored with a posthumous tribute to his acting career). Instead, the treasured statuette went to Anthony Hopkins, whose role as the father in the film of that name was so convincing and so indelible that the movie would not have worked without his commanding presence.

Anthony Hopkins stars in “The Father.”

“The Father” is based on a play by French writer Florian Zeller, who also wrote the screenplay with the aid of British playwright Christopher Hampton. In the French play, the father is named Andre, but in the translated film version, he bears the name of the actor who plays him, Anthony (pronounced with a hard t). Most of the movie takes place in a London flat where Anthony resides and where a late afternoon glow provides much of the lighting. Anthony, imperious in demeanor, has just fired the last of several caregivers.

In his mid-eighties, Anthony displays signs of a gradual descent into dementia manifested by memory loss as well as spouts of distrust and hostility. He has just accused Laura (Imogen Peets), his last caregiver, of stealing his watch, a scenario that has occurred in the past but has never been the fault of the caregiver, only the result of Anthony’s increasing  forgetfulness.  Entering his apartment at this point is his patient and loving daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman).

Anne gently reminds her father that he must be kinder and more patient to his caregivers, otherwise, she will have to find another solution for his care. The alternative of placing Anthony in an institutional residence is never spoken aloud but he rails against it saying that he will never leave his flat and he doesn’t need anyone to look after him.  But when Anne tells her father that she will be moving to Paris and can no longer see him daily, he chides her, “You’re abandoning me; what will become of me?” Also, in  one of the film’s lighter moments, he tells Anne, “You don’t want to move to Paris. They don’t speak English in Paris.”

Later, Paul (Mark Gatiss) enters the flat, and when Anthony rails with vigor and hostility  about never leaving his flat, Paul calmly responds that Anthony has already left his own flat and is now living in his and Anne’s apartment. We begin to notice slight differences in the color of the tile in the two kitchens, pictures hanging on walls, and furniture placement. Writer Zeller approximates the confusion in his protagonist’s mind by playing with the audience’s perceptions as well.

As Zeller moves back and forth in time, confusing the audience with characters and events from the past and present, he is approximating for us the confusion that Anthony experiences as he lives in the past as much as he lives in the present. There are scenes where a younger Anne is played by a youthful Olivia Williams, and scenes where Paul is played by Rufus Sewell. Characters are scrambled in time and space and association. Laura reminds Anthony of his younger daughter who was an artist but has died many years earlier in an accident.  We are never certain what happened to her but Anthony’s confused mind is having trouble recalling events, especially traumatic and sad occurrences.

What does Hopkins bring to the role of a rambling old man dealing with a world and a reality that are increasingly beyond his grasp?  This distinguished actor has portrayed on stage and on television a classic King Lear, who, like Anthony, is railing against a world no longer within his power to comprehend or control.

Two Hits: Don’t Miss it!

A Hit & A Miss: You Might Like it.

Two Misses: Don’t Bother.