Five years after Florian Zeller’s The Father had a Manhattan Theatre Club residence on Broadway, the drama about a man battling dementia has morphed into an affecting and sometimes brain-dizzying movie.
It’s a story that imagines what’s going on inside an octogenarian’s addled brain and behind troubled eyes, and it’s extremely well-suited for cinematic close-ups. Co-adapted by Christopher Hampton and Zeller, who also directs, the taut and moody 97-minute work is as handsome and emotionally rich as it is uniformly gorgeously acted.
Anthony Hopkins does the heavy lifting as the 80-ish retired engineer Anthony. (The name was Andre when Frank Langella won a Tony Award for the role in 2016.) It’s no fluke that Anthony constantly mentions that he can’t find his wristwatch. Will his faculties be lucid or muddled in the next moment? Tick tock.
Anthony’s mental grip appears to loosen by the minute in his comfortable London home, where he immerses himself in his music and art when he’s not antagonizing well-meaning caregivers. One prominent painting captures a little girl in red and offers a splash of bright color as well as a telling reminder of how life constantly turns, sometimes painfully. Anthony calls the artwork “The Pirouette.”
When his daughter, Anne (Oscar winner Olivia Colman, who nails the adult child’s concern and conflicts), arrives home and says, “Dad? It’s me …” will Anthony even know who she is? Yes. And no. The two discuss her decision to move to Paris. Then Anne leaves the room and when she returns she has shape-shifted and is now played by Olivia Williams. Men in Anne’s life, played by Rufus Sewell and Mark Gatiss, pull similar switcheroos.
More puzzles pop up. Why do furnishings from a doctor’s office suddenly show up at the apartment? Who’s who? What’s going on? Where are we? So many questions. Zeller aims to take audiences inside Anthony’s chaotic cognitive machinery, and the concept works. Audiences, like Anthony, can feel lost.
Hopkins, who was up to his eyeballs in another kind of mind game on Broadway as a shrink in 1974 in Equus, has a long and diverse film career. He’s arguably best known for his Oscar-winning turn as the ghoulish Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in 1991 in The Silence of the Lambs. Two decades later, Hopkins is at the peak of his powers and quietly devastating as Anthony goes from cranky, paranoid and insecure to charming and flirty to break-your-heart human. It’s a performance that stays put in your memory.