Sundance review: Anthony Hopkins stuns in perhaps his best performance in The Father

Photo: Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins star in The Father.. Image CourtesyTrademark Films, Cine@
Photo: Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins star in The Father.. Image CourtesyTrademark Films, Cine@ /

Now that the Oscars are over, it’s time to focus on Oscar season for next year, and I can already tell you who should win for Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins in The Father.

The Father was the best film I viewed at the Sundance Film Festival, with Anthony Hopkins making the case that he’s a shoe-in for Lead Actor at the Oscars next year. Florian Zeller’s feature film directorial debut, The Father, premiered at Sudance, based on his award-winning play, that many consider ‘the best new play of the decade.’

The strength of the film rests squarely on the extremely capable shoulders of Anthony Hopkins, and in the role the legendary actor is not only masterful, but devastatingly so. Hopkins portrays an 80-year-old man in the throes of dementia, who spends his days listening to opera in a posh London flat lined with books. Looking after him is a weary, but dutiful daughter, Anne, a deeply moving Olivia Coleman.

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You would never know that The Father was Zeller’s first film directing stint. The French playwright sets things in motion in an effectively engaging manner, beautifully weaving in classical music to set the scene, reminiscent of one of my favorite films of all time, Amadeus. Anne tells Athony (Hopkins, with the same first name in the film), she has met someone she cares for and is moving to Paris. Finding a suitable caregiver is now paramount.

This conversation is a moment of clarity for the audience in The Father. The news that unhinges Anthony also sets into motion a reality that quickly devolves into an ever-shifting quicksand, with Anthony clinging to a version of the human condition as the grains of sand pull him further and further down. As layers of reality intertwine, our sympathies lie with Anthony’s tenuous grip on maintaining control over his living situation, even as it’s painfully clear that an inevitable solution of a nursing home is the only choice that will work for his condition.

But first Anne tries to find him a caregiver who can possibly look after such a combative– but charming– force of nature. Anthony is obsessed with his watch, a perfect metaphor for his tenuous, but tenacious grip on time. “I will not leave my flat!” he barks at one point. In another, he charms a potential, young, caregiver (wonderful Imogen Poots) with whiskey and tales of being a dancer (to which Coleman reluctantly smiles, both doubting, but also charmed).

Anne’s first husband (Mark Gatiss) appears out of nowhere the film, with scenes from the past merging with the present for Anthony, further mystifying the reality on the ground in Father. Olivia Williams also materializes– as Anne in Anthony’s mind– and later on in a different role.

There’s also the great mystery of Anne’s younger sister, alluded to throughout The Father. Anthony frequently refers to her as his favorite– he displays her art work prominently in the flat– adding to Anne’s pain. The new man in Anne’s life, Paul, played by Rufus Sewell, further adds to the confusion of what Anne’s plans may be for Anthony. Paul advocates for a nursing home, and as likeable as Anthony is, the audience knows that he’s right, even if our sympathies lie staunchly with Anthony.

That is due to Sir Anthony Hopkins, who brings an astounding, breathtaking fire to the role in The Father. The 80-year-old actor has put in his share of terrific performances lately (The Two Popes), but I mean it when I say this is perhaps his best performance, except for maybe The Remains of the Day. That is no exaggeration. At the screening I attended at Sundance, many members of the audience were bawling. It’s a haunting portrayal that stays with you, and remains.

Hopkins is at times brutal, bewitching, capricious, subtle, always brilliant, and most shattering of all, childlike in some of the most gut-wrenching moments. It’s a performance that breaks your heart. Much like Joker‘s Joaquin Pheonix was a shoe-in for the Oscars with no real competition, I just can’t see anyone coming close to what I consider the performance of a lifetime for Hopkins (yes, for Hopkins; this is that good).

Complimenting Hopkins in The Father is Olivia Coleman‘s Anne. With Paul coming into her life, he represents a bright future for her. Coleman conveys her deep love for her father, interlaced with resigned sadness over her sister, and mute anger over her torn loyalties. Coleman is just excellent here. Testament to her performance, she tugs at the audience’s heartstrings as well.

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The Father is a harrowing tale with no other viable conclusion. This is also why it is so devastating. I screened the movie at the Sundance Film Festival. No release date has been announced, but Anthony Hopkins is sure to receive another Oscar nod, as well as Olivia Coleman.