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"THE FATHER"
(2021) (Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Coleman) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A man suffering from dementia tries to make sense of his seemingly ever-changing world and his adult daughter who's trying to care for him.
PLOT:

Anthony (ANTHONY HOPKINS) is an older man who lives in London and is suffering from dementia. All of which means he often confuses and imagines things, such as where he lives and not recognizing the people in his life. That includes his middle-aged daughter, Anne (OLIVIA COLMAN), who's near her wit's end trying to care for him, especially due to him driving away caretakers she's hired to watch him during the day. The situation doesn't sit well with her husband, Paul (RUFUS SEWELL), who's had about enough of Anthony's behavior, especially with him living in their flat.

But as Anne hopes that perhaps new caregiver Laura (IMOGEN POOTS) will work out, Anthony finds himself increasingly confused by almost everything in his life to the point that we're never sure what we're seeing is real, a memory, or just something he's imagined.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10

When it comes to marketing, you either need to deliver a campaign that's so unique that it's unforgettable, or you need to mercilessly drill it into viewers' eyes, ears, and eventually the subconscious through what I've always called carpet bombing advertising. It's what GEICO has done for a long time with their "15 Minutes or Less" campaigns, but they're certainly not the first.

Nor is such repetitive use of a slogan relegated only to commercial endeavors. Public service announcements have done the same, and one of the most famous from when I was growing up was The United Negro College Funds' "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" campaign. It, of course, was directly related to the effort to get African Americans equal amounts of education as their white counterparts back when that was far from a given.

I haven't seen such ads in a long time, so I don't know if they're still running them. If not, they could certainly segue over to the world of cognitive dysfunction, including dementia, and its chief cause, Alzheimer's disease. And that's because such brain maladies are becoming an epidemic. According to the WHO, the number of people suffering from dementia is projected to hit 82 million in 2030 and 152 million in 2050.

Not surprisingly, such maladies -- typically dealt with in the past behind closed doors or in hushed tones -- are likewise showing up more and more as the storyline subjects of TV shows and movies. The latest is "The Father," a well-made, engaging, and ultimately heartbreaking look at one older man suffering from dementia and the effect that not only has on him, but also his adult daughter.

Based on Florian Zeller's 2012 play "Le Père," it's the tale of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) who seems certain of himself and his mental faculties despite his age. But we soon learn through his interactions with his daughter, Anne (Olivia Coleman), that's far from the case as she tries to find him a new daytime caretaker, all while dealing with the practical and emotional repercussions that his state has on her and their relationship.

That might sound like a depressing way to spend nearly 100 minutes -- especially if you've been or are currently going through something similar or imagine you're heading there soon -- and frankly, well, it is. But the way in which writer/director Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton have crafted the story along with the brilliant performances by Hopkins and Coleman and superb tech credits across the board lessens that downer aura and then some.

What makes it so good -- and ends up differentiating it from a predictable A to Z (or in this case M to Z, since we're already in the thick of things) storyline is that we quickly learn not everything we see is necessarily reality.

But what adds depth to that is that it's more than just a storytelling gimmick to catch and then keep viewers off guard. By introducing uncertainty and confusion to the mix, we end up in the titular character's shoes -- and mind -- where we think we know what's happening, who's who, and so on, but ultimately don't.

And to no one's surprise, Hopkins effortlessly portrays the man and that situation to such a brilliant degree that you can't take your eyes off him. His is certainly an award-worthy performance (some of the best moments come when his character says little or nothing and you can see him internally trying to noodle his way through the confusing or at least contradictory facts as presented to him). That also holds true for Coleman as the determined, frustrated, angry and sad daughter. Who may or may not be real or at least present. The end of the film drops that uncertainty, and the beauty of how Zeller handles the material is that it's ultimately up to the viewer to decide.

All of which makes "The Father" one of the best flicks of 2020. That said, beyond using critical and award accolades in the advertising for it, it's going to take a brilliant ad campaign to get viewers to see this offering simply because on the surface it doesn't look like an enjoyable diversion. If anything, it certainly proves that a mind indeed is a terrible thing to waste and that greater attention needs to be paid to those suffering from dementia or who will be in the future. The film rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed January 11, 2021 / Posted March 12, 2021


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