AFI Fest: The Father Review

picture via Sony Picture Classics

A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality.

We get introduced to Anne, who has this sense of urgency about her upon hearing her father, Anthony, has again chased off his caregiver. Anthony finds nothing wrong with himself, not what is going on, and Anne knows and feels differently.

Although we learn quickly that Anthony is forgetful and unsure what is real and isn’t, director Florian Zeller does a great job of forcing us, the viewer, to figure out the same.

At some point, we are faced with the decision of age and unable to care for ourselves any longer. The internal/external struggle of letting go, vocalizing that you need help, and letting someone else take control isn’t easy, especially when the person has been self-sufficient for so many years.

Anthony Hopkins had this switch that he turned on within Anthony; only a veteran actor could pull off. He reeled you into this quirky, funny side and with a snap of a finger, cold, ruthless man who wants no part of these games. Hopkins challenges us within Anthony of when we take him seriously vs. when we should not. Anthony’s emotional development is something you cling onto, and even more so because of what Olivia Coleman does within the role of Anne.

Speaking of Anne, Coleman does it again. She’s just a remarkable actress and plays a role that so many people will be able to relate to. Sincere, concerning, lost and loving, Anne is all of these things wrapped up in one ball. Anne is balancing life with someone she loves and the man who raises her, struggling mightily.

Florian Zeller’s camera work is impeccable. Throughout the film, you notice the shot sequences are different, how he pans the camera in and out, how he allows you to see what he wants you to, nothing more, and nothing less. The way Zeller told a story with the camera often with very little dialogue but packed a powerful punch was masterful.

You had this orchestra like strings playing in the backdrop of the film throughout that played somewhat like a horror film that was fitting for the movie’s tone. Plus, you had this opera playing in other parts of the film when the orchestra wasn’t. Zeller weaved them in and out with perfection. Just a beautiful display of sounds.

Often, we fight with the notion in Hollywood of length in a film. For me, it’s not about not giving directors the freedom of telling their story, but more so on the idea of being able to say, you need to shed some time off this film. You can point at many great films over the last decade alone that overstay their welcome, which causes the viewer to check out. The Father has a crisp run time of 97 minutes, and it’s a tight 97 at that. Zeller never one time waste a frame or has a scene that you look back on and say ‘that wasn’t needed.’ Every moment within the film has meaning, has power, and tells the story in a way that never makes you wonder.

Finally, Zeller forces us to understand what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a man on the brink of losing it all. Zeller’s story is easy and straightforward, but the way he articulates it within camera and screenplay is poignant, strong, and powerful.

In the film’s closing moments, Anthony Hopkins destroys you with every single part of his being. The realization, thoughts, words, pain, laughter, and utter heartbreak of watching this man crumble to his knees, I sat here as the credits rolled with tears rolling down my face trying to put myself back together. I am devastated.

The Verdict:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Zeller has this profound way of telling the story of Anthony that makes it feel personal, not just for him but also for the viewer. Between his masterful work behind the camera, the perfect production design, Hopkins giving a career-best performance, and a beautiful score, The Father is easily one of the years best movies.

Anthony Hopkins gives a devastating performance as the Father is one of the years best.

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

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