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"The Father" Review

 The sales pitch for The Father isn't very appetizing: An old man suffers from dementia as his daughter struggles to cope. Very familiar and you can pretty much imagine how it's going to play out and that's why I shoved this down the list of Best Picture nominees. Sure, Anthony Hopkins (who is nominated for Best Actor) and Olivia Colman (Best Supporting Actress) will be excellent, but haven't we seen this story before?

Perhaps, but not like this, and that's why The Father transcends the tired tropes of its tale. 

Opening with a frustrated Anne (Colman) rushing home to deal with her father Anthony (Hopkins) after he's driven yet another caregiver away with his belligerent behavior, accusing her of stealing his watch when it was in the same place he always leaves it. (He later finds it and puts it on and when called on it not being missing after all, he says it's because he hid it so no one could find it.) 

Anne is clearly at the end of her rope and is trying to get her father to stop being mean to the aides or he'll have to go to a nursing home because she's leaving London to move to Paris with her new man. "But they don't even speak English there," Anthony protests. He is convinced that she's still with her ex-husband and wonders why his other daughter, Lucy, doesn't visit him and Anne's expression tells us why.

Things get weird when Anthony hears a sound while making tea in his kitchen. Investigating, he is surprised to find a man in his sitting room who claims he lives there. Anne comes home and her hair is different - is this a flashback or forward? After tamping that moment down, Anne finally finds a care aide, Laura (Imogen Poots), who seems able to manage the father's quirks and he remarks on how similar she looks to his daughter Lucy, who doesn't visit him anymore. 

Then there is a scene where yet another man, Paul (Rufus Sewell), is in the apartment, claiming the flat is actually his and Anne's place and Anthony has been living with them and his deteriorating condition is interfering with their lives. The kitchen which we had seen previously now has a decidedly modern decor. 

It was at this point where I began to wonder what the actual heck was going on here? Was Anne gaslighting her father? Were we getting a jumbled timeline? Then it clicked: French playwright Florian Zeller (making his directorial debut directing a script adapted from his play with Christopher Hampton, who wrote the play and film versions of Dangerous Liaisons) is putting the viewer into Anthony's crumbling mental state. We don't know what is happening or what is real because Anthony doesn't know. 

This is the secret sauce that elevates The Father. We've seen countless versions of the senile old person wandering the street in their pajamas or mistaking and forgetting people, but it's always been an external experience, watching them deteriorate and other react. By putting us into Anthony's fractured grasp on his world and memories, we can empathize with his decline because our frustration trying to figure out what's going on mirrors his. 

Hopkins is stellar here. It may seem obvious, but with some exceptions like The Two Popes it's felt at times he's been coasting on his Greatest Actor reputation for a while. But he's in magnificent form and would likely take home his second Oscar, but it's a tough year with some competition from nominees who would benefit from Hollyweird's woke virtue signalling needs. Colman, who won Best Actress for The Favourite a couple of years ago, is also excellent. 

While The Father is yet another feels bad movie in a year where every Oscar-nominated movie seems to be a downer, at least it delivers a fresh spin on a stock story powered by exceptional performances. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. 

SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING: If you've every had trouble keeping actresses Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams separated in your head, this movie isn't going to help. The detail about the hair I mentioned above? I didn't realize a switcheroo had occurred until reading a synopsis afterwards and when they both appear on screen together, I thought some Orphan Black trickery was involved.


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