Review: ‘The Father,’ Slow Horror

Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams star in a drama that resolves into a disturbing, yet empathetic portrait. 

Trapped in his own personal hell, without knowing it, Anthony is firmly resolved that he wants to remain in it. And he will fight anyone who suggests otherwise. 

Anthony’s day-to-day existence has fractured into a revolving jigsaw puzzle of people and events, jumbling constantly; he has lost track of what is real and what is imagined, and why are these strangers constantly coming into my home, and why does my daughter keep changing her identity, and where is my other daughter?

Giving a peerless performance, Anthony Hopkins captures the fear and frustration of a man who has accomplished good things in his working career. He has raised a daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), who has supported him in a very kind manner. She is coming to realize, however, that her dear father’s diminishing capacities — due, perhaps, to Alzheimer’s Disease or, at least, the more common dementia — and consequent inability to get along with live-in caregivers, other than herself, means that she will soon need to choose between becoming a full-time caregiver or living her own life. 

Whatever she decides to do, Anthony’s state of mind strongly suggests that he is beyond the care of any one individual. My own dear father suffered from Alzheimer’s in his latter years, so the sometimes-harrowing events in the film feel very familiar to me, especially the continual confusion and frustration with his own inability to keep things straight. Anthony’s emotions appear to continually simmer, and more frequently than not, boil over into massive eruptions which he then promptly forgets, or minimizes. 

The source material is an acclaimed French-language play by Florian Zellner, which was first staged in 2012. Translated into English by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), the play proceeded to gain wider acclaim after it was staged on London’s West End in 2015 and on Broadway in 2016. In his feature directorial debut, Zellner does a marvelously effective job, cinematically staging Anthony’s existence as a horrifying reality, seamlessly showing him waking into a living nightmares that he struggles to recognize. 

Colman is pitch-perfect through the varying moods she must suggest as she plays off Hopkins, who captures a tragic figure with great empathy. Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, and Imogen Poots play their supporting roles with authentic compassion and kindly precision. 

To say that The Father hits hard would be under-selling a film that is filled with finely-tuned, haunting dramatics. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on March 12, via Sony Pictures Classics. For more information about the film, visit the official site.