The Father

At first I wasn't keen on seeing The Father; do we really need another drama about Alzheimer's? My sense was that the film would be just a soppy showcase for Anthony Hopkins. A showcase it may be, but soppy it is not.

Hopkins plays a retired engineer, coincidentally named Anthony, who is deep in the throes of dementia but is in full denial (not an uncommon symptom). The story takes place mostly in one location: a spacious London apartment that might be Anthony's or might be his daughter's. Likewise, his daughter might be played by Olivia Colman or she might be played by Olivia Williams. And that's the design of The Father: the film puts us deep inside Anthony's confused mind, where we simply do not and cannot know what is reality. There is no camera trickery or special effects; director/cowriter Florian Zeller based The Father on his own play, so the shifts in casting and even production design are theatrical rather than cinematic artifices. Happily and mysteriously, the film doesn't feel stagy.

Hopkins delivers a genuinely tour-de-force performance. There is no question that his character is living a nightmare, and while Hopkins gets to indulge in fits of rage, pride, nostalgia, and even flirtation, he loses himself so utterly in his character that you feel his lack of control. At times it seems as though you're watching a well-lit home movie of Hopkins himself in the depths of Alzheimer's. It is frightening yet relatable: the film leaves you with more compassion and understanding about what people with dementia are truly going through. (Full disclosure: I lost my stepfather Cliff Kines to very early onset Alzheimer's in the 1990s.)

I know some people were upset that the late Chadwick Boseman did not win a posthumous Best Actor Oscar for his fine but predictable work in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. After seeing The Father, there is no question that Anthony Hopkins was more deserving of the award. It is a raw, vulnerable, sensational performance, possibly the best in his long career.