Director: Florian Zeller
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams
Run Time: 97 mins
The Father is the directorial debut from playwright Florian Zeller, of which this is an adaptation of one of his plays. It stars the revered Anthony Hopkins as (fittingly) Anthony, an ageing man with progressing dementia. Zeller’s script offers a novel perspective on the debilitating condition in that the film is generally told from Anthony’s perspective which is suitably sprawling and incoherent. He often forgets his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) and her partner Paul (Rufus Sewell) and confuses their identities with other people, for example Olivia Williams (credited as ‘The Woman’) appears in the film and informs Anthony that she is his daughter. Certain sequences are repeated with variations of actions or conversations, questioning reality. Lavish praise has been heaped on The Father, striking a chord with critics and audiences alike and it was a key contender at the Oscars this year, earning Hopkins a Best Actor win. Now that the film has finally arrived in the UK, does it deliver?
The Father is a difficult watch and its grim yet unconventional portrayal of dementia is to be admired. Anthony Hopkins’ performance is excellent and his range of being happy-go-lucky to breaking down in tears due to his inability to understand what is happening in his headspace is tremendous. There are some equally committed supporting performances from Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots and Rufus Sewell, the latter particularly effective as a seemingly slimy individual from Anthony’s perspective which Sewell delivers with glee.
However, I have reservations. Firstly, the film is just not very cinematic and feels like a stage play. This is partly down to a wordy script, but chiefly down to its predominantly single apartment setting and the way in which it is brightly lit acts as a literal spotlight for Hopkins’ performance. That said, there are occasional efforts made to change the setting.
It is hard to fully emotionally commit to The Father as it is unconvincing in its logic of time and space. At times, it feels like the film plays in real time but Anthony’s condition accelerates too rapidly. The film’s novel concept is also undone numerous times as there are interactions that are not from his perspective. It almost feels like a cop-out in that Zeller intends the audience to have some form of truth to cling onto. Perhaps because I have experience of family members who have suffered from dementia, but the film shies away from some of the dour everyday aspects, such as the loss of key motor skills such as the progressive lack of movement, eating difficulties and incontinence.
Whilst there is a lot to admire in The Father, ultimately it’s not as raw and fulfilling an experience as its premise suggests it should be. The film is worth seeing for its towering Anthony Hopkins performance alone and its innovative perspective of dementia in a filmic setting. But, it’s a shame that Zeller doesn’t fully unpack and utilise the concept with greater authenticity and The Father isn’t the towering achievement its awards success would suggest.