Movie review: The Father

Directed by: Florian Zeller

Rating: 8/10

Review by: Raghav Raj

The first thing that practically leaps off the screen in the opening moments of The Father is the sheer disarray of it all. As Olivia Colman’s character walks to her apartment, striding intently, the camera seems caught off balance by her, almost struggling to stay with her as she walks into and out of its field of view from a peculiar set of angles. The music, meanwhile, seems to chug forward at breakneck pace, operatic and feverish all at once. She calls for her father, a tinge of exhaustion, of dread in her voice, but there’s no response, as the camera hangs still in the hallways of the flat. She opens the door. He takes off his headphones. 

The question that Anthony Hopkins’ character (the titular father, Anthony) asks at the sight of his daughter Anne in the doorway is one that, almost on purpose, seems to be written as innocuous — “what are you doing here?” Yet, the state of disorientation that he feels in that one moment goes on to define the rest of The Father, a movie that’s just so remarkable at warping the mundane into something utterly, absolutely devastating.

The film, despite being director Florian Zeller’s cinematic debut, is remarkably unflinching in its vision, perhaps as the result of his fine-tuned commitment to the story at hand. Zeller, who originally wrote The Father as an award-winning 2012 play titled Le Père, makes the transition from stage to screen feel brilliantly effortless, maneuvering behind the camera with the grace of a seasoned veteran. The art direction, spearheaded by Yorgos Lamprinos, turns a shapeshifting residence into what’s almost this self-contained world, where nothing feels familiar and everyone seems like a stranger.

Living in this residence is Anthony, a belligerent, dementia-addled old man whose memory has decayed into something almost terrifyingly hallucinogenic. He doesn’t recognize the places he inhabits, the people that come in and out, the time that has passed — and by that extent, neither do we. We’re often just as untethered as Anthony is, cast into a plot that’s fragmented and warped beyond repair (the closest analogue to what Zeller’s doing here can be found in the films of Charlie Kaufman, particularly I’m Thinking of Ending Things from this past fall). It’s a brilliant directorial trick, and it really conveys how utterly shattering the disease can be for everyone in its orbit.

The impact of it all is visceral, and it’s often amplified here by some absolutely sensational performances. Everyone is fantastic, from Rufus Sewell as the cold, menacing son-in-law Paul, to Olivia Colman, who’s just heartbreaking as Paul’s wife and Anthony’s caring daughter, Anne.

Then of course, there’s Anthony Hopkins. About his Oscar-winning performance, I shall say this much: in a crop of nominees that included masterful career-defining turns from Riz Ahmed, Steven Yeun, and the late, great Chadwick Boseman, Hopkins is absolutely deserving of the trophy he came home with. He delivers a performance here that’s so utterly, magnificently, emotionally annihilating, worn with the weariness of age and run ragged by the heartbreaking passage of time, that it’s hard to see this as anything but his finest hour, maybe even eclipsing his own career-defining turn as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs

For Hopkins alone, The Father would be worth watching, but this is just such a brilliant, fully formed film that it does his performance some justice. It is a genuinely heart-wrenching movie, more than deserving of all the praise thrown its way.