Anyone who may have thought that Sir Anthony Hopkins was slowly shuffling towards stage left at the grand old age of 83 would be sorely mistaken. Though his screen time has reduced over the last few years, ‘The Father’ is the sort of film that reminds us once and for all why this man has been adored on screens for decades.
Anthony (Hopkins, not to confuse you) is a rambunctious eighty-year-old who feels like his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is too worried about him living alone in his stately flat. He feels absolutely fine and still has his wits about him. But does he? As the world around him inexplicably shifts and everything he once thought of as familiar becomes strange and untrustworthy, he starts to doubt his own mind and existence.
Writer, director Florian Zeller based his first feature film on his own play of the same name. ‘Based on a play’ are usually words I don’t like to see attached to a film. The occasions where such a transition is made seamlessly between two very distinctly different formats, are rare. Zeller, however, masters his own material so well that it’s almost hard to believe this is his very first time directing a film. It’s such an assured movie with nary a frame or a word out of place that I really hope this won’t be his last silver screen outing. To have your first film echo the likes of Haneke’s ‘Amour’ and still have its own very distinct identity is no small feat.
The screenplay also masterfully plays with the perception of time and space. The audience, like the film’s main character, is never quite sure what to make of the reality that is being presented. We accept it because, like Anthony, we’re offered explanations about what’s going on from people we think we can trust. But can we trust them? To create that unsure footing in a viewer and still keep them interested, or not feeling as if they’re being played by a gimmick, is a balancing act of pure brilliance.
So the foundations of this film are beyond solid, without question. But what is built on top of that by this absolutely stellar cast, grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until long after the credits have rolled. Hopkins simply owns this film. You can feel the deconstruction of his character, witness his carefully placed puzzle fall apart piece by piece and it’s heartbreaking. Anthony is presented as a man of some stature and intellect, and we’re witnessing his deterioration and the effect it has on his mind and on the people around him.
Olivia Colman embodies her role as if she was watching her own father slip away. Her love for him, her desperation, her inability to ensure him a dignified end, it all radiates off the screen and aims directly for your heart. You’ll feel it breaking, I promise. And even though Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots and Mark Gatiss have far less to do, not a minute of their screen time is wasted. Every performance is a carefully laid brick that no amount of huffing or puffing could blow down.
‘The Father’ is a masterclass in acting and a gut wrenching emotional roller coaster that solidifies Hopkins as the greatest actor of his generation and launches Zeller as a very exciting director we need to keep our eye on.
Review – ‘The Father’
Reviewed online, March 26, 2021. Rating: M. Running time: 97 min.
PRODUCTION: A Sony Pictures Classics release of a Trademark Films, Cine@, F Comme Film, Film4, Viewfinder production. Producers: Philippe Carcassonne (p.g.a.), Jean-Louis Livi (p.g.a.), David Parfitt (p.g.a.), Simon Friend, Christophe Spadune. Executive producers: Tim Haslam, Zygi Kamasa, Paul Grindey, Ollie Madden, Daniel Battsek, Lauren Dark, Hugo Grumbar, Sylvain Jouannet.
CREW: Director: Florian Zeller. Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller. Cinematography: Ben Smithard. Editing: Yorgos Lamprinos. Music: Ludovico Einaudi.
CAST: Olivia Colman, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Ayesha Dharker.