By Christian DiMartino
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Sir Anthony Hopkins.
The man needs no introduction, and is of course a legend. But it’s not often that you hear of an actor, well into his 80s, delivering career-defining work. Hopkins masterpiece might always be The Silence of the Lambs, because let’s be real: most actors could dream of delivering a performance of that magnitude. Yet Hopkins, who just received an Oscar nomination for last year’s The Two Popes (a so-so movie that he happened to be the best part of), could and should receive another nomination this year for The Father.
Hopkins is absolutely heartbreaking here as a man whose mental state is perhaps well beyond the slipping point. Hopkins plays this role as both a man who is smart enough to be aware of what is happening to him, and yet vulnerable enough to be frightened of the inevitable. He’s puzzled and confused, as we are, by what is happening around him, and yet he is still of sound mind enough to realize that there’s an issue. The interesting balancing act of the performance lies in the fact that he is playing a man who is mentally ill, and yet through Hopkins we still see glimpses of the man he once was.
Hopkins plays… well, Anthony, and as we first see him, his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman, also worthy of recognition) frustrated because Anthony has just scared off another caretaker. She also tells him that she is moving to Paris because she has met someone. She leaves, and sometime later, a man (Mark Gatiss) appears in Anthony’s apartment, claiming that it’s his apartment, and that Anthony is living with the man and Anne. Yet when Anne reappears with dinner, she isn’t the same Anne; she’s now played by Olivia Williams. Confused? So is he, and cut to the next time you see Anne, and she is again played by Colman. Imogen Poots also stars as a caretaker who supposedly has a striking resemblance to his other daughter, Lucy. Rufus Sewell, always slimy, is really strong here too as Anne’s boyfriend, who is pretty blunt and harsh to Anthony. The film is more character driven than plot driven; we basically just see what is happening to Anthony in his life as his mental state is deteriorating. Yet it’s how the film unfolds that is truly something to see.
It’s a tribute to writer/director Florian Zeller’s work that Hopkins is able to pull this off so well; the two complete each other. Thankfully, I have never had to deal with a family member who has suffered from dementia. Yet Zeller’s film, which his based off of his play, still pulls us in because we feel for those who have. That, and because Zeller sells this film beautifully. Whereas a lot of films focus strictly on the family and how they come to cope with it, The Father taps into the psyche of the patient, and it makes for a fascinating, puzzling, yet beautifully meticulous and dizzying experience. As I was watching it, and even after, I kept wondering just how Zeller wrote this, and how he wrote it so beautifully. The Father is essentially Zeller’s way of expressing the utmost sympathy.
The film builds to a finale that will break your heart into a million pieces. It’s really tough to say why, but know that it all rests in Hopkins’ delivery- it’s really, truly moving stuff. Colman too is great here as a woman who is beyond frustrated by her father’s antics, and yet also knows that whatever she is feeling cannot compare to what he is feeling. The Father certainly isn’t a great time at the movies; it is a puzzle, in ways, which I know can be fun, but this isn’t it. Rather, it’s among the strongest depictions of mental illness and coping I have seen in some time, and it’s certainly one of the year’s best films; a surefire Oscar contender.