'The Father' Is Masterfully Acted and Almost Unbearably Bleak

Directed by Florian Zeller

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 29, 2020

During an early scene in The Father, daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) speaks with titular dad Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) about the need to find him full-time care. It's bleak in a fairly straightforward way: Anthony is irritable, easily distractible, and irrationally accuses his prior carer of stealing his watch. He's showing clear signs of dementia, and his daughter is understandably frustrated and upset.

It's a grim introduction that doesn't quite prepare viewers for the harrowing, disorienting film that follows. It soon becomes clear that we're viewing reality from Anthony's perspective: faces swap, the chronology becomes unclear, and bits of conversation repeat like glitches in the matrix. The audience is left trying to separate actual events from his unreliable perceptions, often leaving us as confused as Anthony.

The Father was directed by Florian Zeller, based on his play of the same name (and is not to be confused with the identically named The Father, another film about aging from last year's TIFF). It sticks closely to theatrical format: it's dialogue-driven, with nearly every scene taking place within the same apartment. The very limited surroundings — in which Anthony's apartment, Anne's apartment and a nursing home are basically interchangeable — add a sense of horror-like claustrophobia as we cycle around and around in Anthony's muddled thoughts.

The acting is masterful — particularly Hopkins and Colman, but also Imogen Poots as the cheerful carer Laura and Rufus Sewell as Anne's slightly ominous husband Paul. Whether or not these performances will connect with audiences will depend almost entirely on the individual's tolerance for intensely upsetting, psychologically immersive tragedy.

The Father is out now on VOD.
(Elevation Pictures)

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