Sundance 2020: Anthony Hopkins is in Fantastic Form as “The Father”

The Father Olivia Colman & Anthony Hopkins in The Father (Sony Pictures Classics)

Florian Zeller directs a stunning feature debut starring Anthony Hopkins & Olivia Colman at the top of their game.

First-time director Florian Zeller walked out on stage to rapturous applause. At least one-third of the audience attending the premiere for Zeller’s film gave a standing ovation inside one of Sundance Film Festival’s biggest venues, the Eccles Theater. The reason for this reaction? The Father, a stage play written by Zeller adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton, starring Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.

Following father Anthony (Hopkins) and daughter Anne (Colman), The Father explores a man aging sans grace, and how his growing uncertainty affects his daily routines and biggest relationship. Playing out over an unspecified amount of time yet staying in only a couple of apartments, the film corners you, becoming smaller and more intimate as time goes on. The 97-minute runtime flies by, with Hopkins commanding the screen in every scene, becoming a vehicle for him to likely receive an Oscar nomination in 2021. 

The supporting cast, including an incredible actor in Colman, serves as merely a springboard for Hopkins, who plays a man struggling to understand or realize his own increasing forgetfulness and incoming dementia. Hopkins’ performance is one of his best in the last decade, blowing his Two Popes role off the screen, and showing that he continues to be one of Hollywood’s finest actors. He rips your heart out over and over again, creating a character that feels too relatable for all of us that have family members living with pain over the age of 75. 

Playing out over an unspecified amount of time yet staying in only a couple of apartments, the film corners you, becoming smaller and more intimate as time goes on.

Zeller’s film allows Hopkins to fill up the screen with frustration as his world starts to crumble. Anthony suddenly cannot recognize his own daughter, forgets conversations from five minutes prior, and fights with everyone who isn’t his daughter, unable to restrain himself from demeaning every nurse that attempts to help him. Anne and her husband, played a rotating cast of men, never looks the same throughout the film, as this film settles on the viewpoints of Anthony. We begin living his nightmare alongside him, becoming just as confused as the old man searching for any ounce of assuredness.

Zeller’s film might come from its roots as a play, but unlike many other adaptations, its smallness translates into a fast-paced, less stagely production. The script from Hampton contains a large amount of wit and elements of British life, keeping its actors’ accents to make the film feel familiar and regular. You become a fly on the wall in these people’s home, watching Anthony as he listens to his classical music and eats his nightly chicken. A level of personal space vanishes, allowing you to feel the emotions of this father and daughter on a heightened level. 

The strength of Zeller’s film comes from its specificity, such as the grocery store downstairs, the constant loss of Anthony’s watch and his subsequent hiding places, as well as Anne’s ever-changing decision to move to France. Zeller owes a debt to Hampton and though this play became a hit in the theater world, this film has a real opportunity to garner critical and commercial acclaim. 

The film’s final act becomes its most fascinating for its story and its lead actor in Hopkins. Finding a melancholic sadness of old age in film, The Father contains scenes that are sure to resonate with young and old audiences. The young will see their parents and grandparents in Anthony, and the elderly will see Anthony in themselves. An intimate portrait of a person attempting to adapt to his changing world, The Father puts Zeller on a list of directors to watch, those who can craft stories able to produce tears from their audiences. 

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