I was wrong. Not having been able to see The Father in the theater until recently, I went with the current wisdom that the award for Best Actor would of course go to Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It would be an award signaling our collective loss of a great actor, one who would likely have continued to contribute powerful, shaded performances…plus…it was generally agreed that this powerful performance was the best of the year besides.
Then I saw The Father’s Anthony Hopkins, who won the Oscar for Best Actor and shocked anyone paying attention. The Academy got it right. As good as Boseman was, Hopkins’ performance is one for the ages. It’s stunning, rich, full, and as powerful as it comes. That’s one reason to see it. The other Oscar the film won was for its screenplay, which is masterful.
The film is a challenge to anyone getting up there in years. It’s the nightmare scenario of a man dealing with Alzheimer’s, and the slow but steady loss of a grip on reality. The plot is simple: when is it time, if it is ever time, to put a parent in a home? But there is so much more experientially. The film takes us along on the journey of Anthony’s (yes, that’s his character’s name as well, as screenwriter/director Florian Zeller wrote it specifically for him) growing confusion, until we don’t know exactly what is going on and can relate to his constant bewilderment. (For those among you who must make sense of things, you’ll be happy to know that by the end, things clear up.)
I’ll get back to Hopkins soon, but his fellow actors are well-known, even to most American audiences, and they range from solidly good to great. The great is the great Olivia Coleman, Oscar winner for The Favourite. She plays Anthony’s daughter, and is the character who holds the film together narratively. Other well-known actors include Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense), Mark Gatiss (Mycroft in the TV Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch), and Rufus Sewell (Man in the High Castle and Victoria).
The script by Zeller, based upon his play, has a clear arc and direction while still allowing viewers to experience the dizzying confusion Anthony is plagued with. It moves at a steady pace, never rushing but never lagging. This is also Zeller’s first film as a director after years of writing plays, and while his work is being overshadowed by both the strength of the script and the stellar work of Hopkins, it’s an exciting and very intelligent first effort.
The cinematography by Ben Smithard (Downton Abbey the film) hasn’t been written about much, but it’s a major contributor to the story. In most films dealing with confusion or dementia, there is a clear differentiation between what’s real and what isn’t, or what might not be real. Everything here is crisp and clean and in focus, making the unreal as real as the real, and allowing us access to Anthony’s perceptions.
Finally, I cannot say enough about Hopkins’ work. He’s funny, intelligent, silly, mean, self-absorbed, selfish, childish, and finally, pitiable. It’s an “all out there” performance with no punches pulled, but it’s not showy and no furniture is chewed. Even Hopkins’ patented “yell” is used only once. It’s as fine-tuned a performance as you will ever see. The film is closely centered around him, and he holds it together while the film itself provides him with an opportunity to show the depth and breadth of his talent. It’s easy to see why some consider him the greatest actor alive today.
The film is intriguing, fascinating, engaging, smart, and genuinely emotional. It’s worth seeing for itself. But finally, it’s a must-see for those that appreciate world-class acting. This performance is one on the best you’ll ever see. (Yes, it’s that good.)