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  Father, The State Of Confusion
Year: 2020
Director: Florian Zeller
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Ayesha Dharker
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) has been a little mixed up recently. He had arranged for him a carer to look after his wellbeing, because his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) could not attend to her ageing father as much as she would have liked, but he had been so obnoxious with the carer that she left shortly after, not wishing to be treated that way - she alleged he had physically threatened her, too. But Anthony was convinced she had been stealing from him, and that was all the excuse he needed to drive her away, if she had not been stealing, then where was his watch, for example. Anne explained it would be in his safekeeping place, but he was growing more confused...

The Father, an adaptation of writer and director Florian Zeller's stage play that, in French, had given that country's acting royalty Jean Rochefort his last great role, was made into a film under condition that Hopkins would play the lead (his character was even named after him). It had taken a while, but it felt like a vindication of all those roles where the Welsh star would show up trading on his Oscar win for The Silence of the Lambs and appear in tat that was beneath his talents: at last a part that not only had been written for him, but showed off his skills in a way that pantomiming his way through extended guest star bits would not, and he was rewarded with huge acclaim from many quarters.

Yet real life seems to have a habit of getting confusing when you get to a certain age, and while he was happy to be Oscar nominated again, he knew he would lose to the sympathy vote of Chadwick Boseman on the big night. Guess what - the big story of that ceremony (aside from the dwindling audience) was that this eightysomething white guy had yanked the statuette out of Boseman's grieving family's hands, when the truth was more that while the voters respected Boseman, they were more impressed by Hopkins when it came down to it. Once audiences got to see the performance, they understood, as the effect would not have succeeded without Hopkins, he truly held it together with remarkable ability.

Nevertheless, there remained grumbles even if the leading man was admired. For the naysayers, it was a technically impressive work but a cold one, possibly because Zeller refused to pander to the viewer and indeed required you to turn detective to work out what was actually happening through the filter of Anthony's deteriorating mind. Is Anne going to leave him for a fancy man in Paris? What happened to the other daughter? Is Anne's husband resorting to elder abuse to force him into a care home? Whereabouts in the story are we, anyway, day or night, breakfast time or dinner time, days ago or years ago? You could see why for some it remained academic in its tricks, and too studied in its clever structure to truly move them as a more conventional melodrama might; if anything, it resembled Roman Polanski's cult horror The Tenant, not a cool name to drop anymore but the seeds were sown there.

And yet, and yet, there was Hopkins, playing a character who we can discern may not have been the nicest guy before his dementia, but is finding the condition bringing out his worst qualities when he is not actively pathetic and bewildered. We perceive why Anne feels a duty to her parent despite him needing looking after beyond her means, a mixture of guilt and deep concern, but also why he is increasingly impossible to live with. Hopkins superbly judged his performance against whoever of the British thesps he was paired with scene to scene, and it usually was a two-hander, occasionally three; everyone rose to the task, but he carried a lot of acting baggage and that was a motive for watching his character's deterioration: so disturbing, when it was not depressing. Zeller had included details that many people would recognise from Alzheimer's sufferers in their own lives: not recognising those closest to them, believing they were being stolen from, forever wanting to go home or a terror of abandonment. It may not have been perfect in that respect, but it was a lot closer than plenty, and its leaning on chiller tropes was not, for once, hyperbole. Music by Ludovico Einaudi.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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