- Colin Fraser
FOUR AND A HALF STARS Anthony needs more care than his daughter can provide, and he doesn't understand why.
DRAMA UK English #THEFATHER
Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Coleman
The sheer awfulness of dementia is tricky to capture on film. Some are more effective than others; the upcoming SUPERNOVA is one, Michael Hanneke’s astounding AMOUR is another. Yet despite the best, most sincere and heartfelt intentions fall short. Consider STILL ALICE which left audiences observing rather than truly feeling Alice’s pain. Pleasingly, THE FATHER is absolutely in the former group, a sensational account that leads audiences down a rabbit hole of confusion, loss, anger and grief that is the lived experience of anyone suffering dementia, and those that care for them.
As with AMOUR, THE FATHER’s headline cast infuse their characters with an unequivocal authenticity. They are all outstanding. Led by Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman, supported by Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell and Mark Gattis, everyone contributes to a story that churns and swirls in a thoroughly unsettling manner. In fact, you’d be confused for thinking it’s a crime thriller at first. The father certainly does.
Anthony (Hopkins) can no longer be trusted to care for himself and has moved into the home of his daughter Anne (Coleman). Sometimes he remembers, sometimes he doesn’t. Just as he can’t always remember where he left his watch, convinced that the cleaner has stolen it. When he’s fully lucid, Anthony is utterly charming, he flirts with the nurse Anne has arranged. Often he’s not, he’s reprehensible, and drives the nurse to tears. His decline is such that Anne recognises he needs full time care. What’s more, she’s planning to move to Paris and live with her boyfriend.
So far, so straightforward. What sets THE FATHER apart is Florian Zeller’s gelatinous production. Anthony’s apartment closely resembles both his room in a care home as well as Anne’s apartment. It’s unsettling, forcing you to constantly reevaluate their surroundings and the point in Anthony”s timeline: is this his present or some composite from his past. Compounding the confusion is another woman claiming to be his daughter, a stranger claiming to be his son-in-law, and yet another man also claiming to be Anne’s husband. Who are these people and are they, in fact, real? See above re thriller as you’re forced to tease truth from the dream-like familiarity of these nightmarish surroundings. With some effort, eventually, we can. Unlike poor Anthony.
Remarkable aesthetics aside, THE FATHER shines because of the powerhouse performances of its cast who get as close to the awful reality of dementia as a movie can. No one puts a foot wrong interpreting the screenplay by Christopher Hampton (ATONEMENT) based on Florian’s challenging play. Hopkins is a force of nature as he and Coleman deliver some of their best, most honest work. The result is a film that shines in spite of the desperate grief, and one that, surprisingly, also finds space to offer hope.