“The Father” will affect people in different ways, and the movie remains a somewhat claustrophobic adaptation of the stage play. Yet there have been few better attempts on screen to capture dementia — both for those trapped within it, and those grappling with how to handle them — punctuated by a staggering performance from Anthony Hopkins, a brilliant cherry on top of the 83-year-old actor’s extraordinary career.
The film co-stars Olivia Colman (“The Crown”) as his understandably harried daughter, Anne, trying as she might to allow her dad, Anthony, to stay out of a facility, but struggling with the demands on her time and catering to his mercurial needs.
Moreover, her situation — and indeed, the cast of characters — keeps changing as we see the world through his eyes, unsure of what to believe about whether his child is married, or moving, and what happened to the other daughter that he frequently references and whose mention elicits pained expressions.
Marking the directing debut of playwright Florian Zeller (who shares script credit with Christopher Hampton), the conceit of presenting the world as Anthony sees it poses a challenge, telling the story largely from the perspective of the most unreliable of narrators. The approach conjures a kind of unreality, leaving the audience to assemble the truth out of a jigsaw puzzle of pieces.
The film thus replays scenes over and over, since Anthony has little ability to retain information. He can alternately be charming — say, when a new caregiver arrives — and just as quickly become defensive, agitated and angry, leaving Anne few good options, and provoking powerful feelings of guilt no matter what she does.
“Everything is fine,” he says, only moments later to protest, “You’re abandoning me,” in a manner as heartbreaking as it is childlike.
For anyone who has dealt with anything close to this scenario, parts of “The Father” will be painful to watch. For those that haven’t, it may seem dramatic and showy in an over-the-top way.
Still, the movie possesses a strong emotional core, perhaps more so at a time when so many have lost older family members, or been forced to worry about and avoid seeing them because of concerns about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on that demographic cohort.
Other supporting players include Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, and Olivia Williams, but this is Hopkins’ show, and he has delivered a true tour de force, following up his work last year in “The Two Popes” with another role that should put the five-time Oscar nominee in the awards conversation once again.
“The Father” isn’t a picnic to watch, but it is — somewhat ironically, given Anthony’s condition — a movie, and performance, that’s hard to forget.
“The Father” premieres Feb. 26 in select theaters. It’s rated PG-13.