Florian Zeller’s directorial feature debut The Father was undoubtedly subject to a lot of critical and commercial praise and emerged as a favourite among many critic’s Best Film lists going into the Oscars. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Anthony, a father who is suffering with dementia, the film follows his deterioration into memory loss and despair as other characters begin to change actors and the setting begins to change. It is a deeply harrowing film that weaves feelings of thriller into the dramatic elements of the film. With great performances all round, especially from Hopkins and Olivia Colman who plays his daughter, Anne, The Father was a regular mainstay on the awards circuit this year, receiving six Academy Award nominations and winning two with Zeller and Christopher Hampton winning Best Adapted Screenplay and Hopkins receiving the Best Actor gong in a shock win.
Zeller has been a prominent playwright winning many prestigious awards in France. The Father marks his directorial debut and its script is based on his play. What makes the film so effective is how well Zeller’s direction allows the flat to become a character in itself. As we become familiarised with every room and corridor in the flat, we begin to see the changes that Anthony notices to the point where the film plays as a thriller. Although The Father is not a horror in the traditional sense of the genre, there is something deeply horrific and disturbing about watching Anthony’s world and sense of self crumble as everything becomes more distorted and confused. The way that the script is paced and structured allows for this confusion and deterioration to be carried off successfully as scenes appear to overlap and the same dialogue occurs in different flats with different actors playing the same role. The only consistent aspect of the whole film is Hopkins playing Anthony. Everything else from the plot to the characters and the setting is subject to changes to highlight the spiral into confusion.
Hopkins’ win at the Academy Awards this year was one of the most shocking results as it had seemed that the late Chadwick Boseman was the favourite to win for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. However, the competition in the Best Actor race was incredibly strong and both Hopkins and Boseman gave fantastic performances. Although seeing Boseman win would have been a lovely tribute on what was a life cut tragically short, Hopkins’ achievement in The Father shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked. There is a reason why Hopkins is often referred to as the best actor working today and it is his ability to truly become the character and his fearless approach. The character of Anthony is extremely confident in himself at the beginning but we see his many layers begin to peel away as his struggles come to light and his concept of time and self begin to dissipate. Hopkins’ ability to shift the mood with the slight change of voice or a minor physical action carries the film and lifts it from being a play performed onscreen to a cinematic experience. It’s testament to Hopkins’ career that his role in The Father is being deemed one of his best considering the calibre of his actor.
In support, we have the extremely lovable Olivia Colman playing Anthony’s daughter, Anne. Colman is always a welcome presence in any film and The Father is no exception. If you’re going to have an actor playing with someone like Anthony Hopkins, you need to make sure they can match his calibre and Colman is one of the best actresses working today and is perfect casting. Coming off her Oscar winning turn in The Favourite, Colman is phenomenal as Anne, the tortured second daughter who lives in the shadow of her deceased sister, Lucy (Imogen Poots) and having to listen to her father talk to people about how Lucy is his favourite daughter. Where Anthony is seemingly happy and content at the start of the film, Anne is the opposite. Having sacrificed the happiness of her life to look after her father, Anne’s partner, Paul receives a job offer in Paris and wants her to join him. This is the perfect opportunity for Anne to begin to live her life and step out of the shadow of her family. Colman received a slew of award nominations including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination which was great to see because she really holds her own and proves to be a stellar screen partner against Hopkins.
Composer Ludovico Einaudi has had a brilliant year as he helped bring life to Chloe Zhao’s beautiful Best Picture winner, Nomadland as well as The Father. It’s incredible how different the scores are and yet are full of Einaudi signatures that help to bring his mark to the film. The score for The Father is gentle and intense at the same time and feels like a perfect mesh between drama and thriller without being over the top or overwhelming the scenes. It’s the subtly that makes the music a perfect undercurrent that propels the scenes forward and brings those confusions to light. The music in the final scene, particularly, is stunning and it is a real shame that Einaudi didn’t receive any nomination for his efforts for either film at the Academy Awards as that would have been well deserved.
What The Father does so well in this cinematic adaptation is its ability to elevate itself from a stage production onscreen thanks to the use of the direction and performances. With a stellar script that bends all of the rules, The Father is not an easy watch by any means but it is by far one of the best films to come out of this awards season. Boasting fantastic performances by Hopkins and Colman, it may not have all of the bells and whistles that come with a lot of big blockbuster films but like Nomadland, The Father thrives in its simplicity and allows the script and characters to help bring the drama to life.
What did you think of The Father? Let me know in the comments below!