The Father review: Anthony Hopkins gives a career-best performance
James R | On 29, Aug 2021
Director: Florian Zeller
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell
“You see, the situation is very simple. I have lived in this flat for some time now. I’m extremely attached to it. And I bought it more than 30 years ago.” That’s Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) in The Father, a drama about a man living with dementia that finds its emotional power in the way that it keeps things devastatingly simple.
Adapted from Florian Zeller’s play of the same name, the film follows Anne (Olivia Colman), the daughter of Anthony who is doing her best to look after him – cooking him dinner after coming back from work and politely attempting to explain what’s going on. But while the script tells her story, Zeller’s direction shows it to us from Anthony’s perspective, creating a juxtaposition that keeps us deliberately disoriented.
It’s a masterclass in storytelling, using everything element of the production design to unnerve, unsettle and confuse, from the disarming editing to the subtle set decoration – a clinical dissection of an emotional experience that balances the mystery of an increasingly fragmented puzzle with the poignant portrait of a father and daughter trying to stay connected.
Colman is excellent as the loyal child all grown up, simultaneously serving as carer and caretaker, but what’s impressive is how generous it is, with her, a wonderfully chilling Mark Gatiss and a deliciously frank Rufus Sewell all delivering supporting roles that don’t steal scenes but add to them. At the centre of it all is a blistering performance from Anthony Hopkins, who is unrecognisable as the octogenarian. One moment stubborn and dismissive, the next quick-witted and amusing, he’s capable of charming a helper as easily as he insults family, and his ability to switch tone and delivery often within the same sentence is as fiercely impressive as it is movingly nuance.
The result is a riveting and heartbreaking drama, one that packs layers upon layers into its 90-minute runtime – a devastatingly simple piece of filmmaking that’s simply devastating.
This review was originally published during Cheltenham International Film Festival 2021.