Released: 1st April
Seen: 22nd April
I genuinely don’t know how to start this. I hate to use the excuse of “I’m too emotional to come up with something witty or clever to open this review” but… it’s the truth. The Father has really emotionally wrecked me, partially because of the content and partly cos it hit me on a personal level. Just warning you that if you have a family member with dementia that this film is going to hit you like a train and probably ruin the rest of your day… but god it’s so good.
The Father focuses on Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an older man who is in the beginning stages of dementia which is making him forget more and more. This creates problems for his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) who is trying to get a nurse to help with handling the older man. As time goes on, things seem to be a little out of place. Anthony can’t find his watch… or the painting that used to be over the fireplace… or his daughter.
Any other year, all we would be talking about is how Anthony Hopkins was going to get a second Oscar. The man has always been great, even when he’s in utter garbage (Hi Transformers 5) he’s been amazing. I do not say this lightly… his role in The Father is Anthony Hopkins greatest performance, bar none. Watching him go through the wringer, from the confusing moments when he doesn’t know who anyone is to the angry moments when he’s telling people to fuck off to the moments when he’s literally crying for his mommy… it’s powerful. It’s intense, it’s absolutely stunning in a million different ways… and he’s probably losing to Chadwick Boseman (but I’ll talk about that more in the coming days).
Beyond Anthony, who just carries The Father on his shoulders like it was nothing, the entire cast is incredible as they all have to alternate between characters and backstories. It’s a complicated juggling act that could be hard to follow with the wrong cast but this cast pulls off every little devastating emotional trick that this film has, particularly Olivia Colman who is the only constant throughout the film.
When I say The Father plays tricks on the audience, that’s because the main conceit of the film is that it’s all from the POV of Anthony… meaning we, the audience, effectively experience the confusion that comes with dementia. Actors trade characters, the set changes in shape and size and details we’re told keep changing every few seconds. Once you catch on what the film is doing it hits you that this must be how it feels to live with this illness, the heartbreaking confusion making everything feel strange and terrifying.
It does break from this format right at the end, mostly so we can have steady feet when Anthony Hopkins delivers his finest moment on screen, but for the entire film, you’re made to feel uneasy with every little edit or camera angle. It’s very obvious The Father was based on a play, the single location and 4-5 characters really lean into that idea, and it doesn’t feel the need to do anything outlandish to make this work visually. Just hold the camera on the faces of these powerhouse actors going for broke and it’ll work.
There are so many brilliant subtle moments that are almost designed to break you when you spot them, little looks and verbal tics that make everything feel brutally real in ways that I haven’t seen in a film in a long time. This film is going to emotionally hurt you, and it should.
As I walked out of the cinema after seeing The Father, all I could think about was my own grandfather who has a similar illness to that of the main character in this film. Anthony needed to be put into a care facility due to his illness, much like my own grandfather. There was a distinct feeling that ran through my body as I sat there and watched this film, namely “Is this what it’s like for grandad?”.
Maybe having a family member who is going through something similar makes this harder viewing , there was a scene where Anthony gives a confused look that I would swear I saw on my grandfather’s face the last time I saw him, but maybe it’s also what made me love the film. I wish more than anything a story like this didn’t need to exist, but someone needed to tell this kind of a story and I’m just glad they did it with such care.
The Father is an absolutely brilliant piece of work, career-best by most of the cast. It’s heartbreaking, it’s powerful and it deserves to be seen. I can’t say I will be sitting through it again, only because I don’t know if I could handle it on an emotional level. What I do know is that I’m glad I saw it because it gave me a perspective into something a loved one is going through that I might not have had and for that I’m eternally grateful.