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Movie Review: 'The Father'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When you've played King Lear, Hannibal Lecter, Richard Nixon, a pope, and a superhero's dad, there are not a lot of acting hills left to climb. But critic Bob Mondello says Anthony Hopkins has found one that might be his steepest yet - the title role in the film, "The Father."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Anthony is a proud English pensioner living on his own in a handsome London flat - well, almost on his own. Anne, his devoted daughter, visits him every day.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Anthony) What are you doing here?

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Anne) What do you think?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Huh?

MONDELLO: Anne would love to keep Anthony independent - if he'll let her.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

COLMAN: (As Anne) So what happened?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Nothing.

COLMAN: (As Anne) Nothing happened?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) No.

COLMAN: (As Anne) I've just had her on the phone.

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) So? What does that prove?

COLMAN: (As Anne) You can't go on behaving like this.

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Well, it's my flat, isn't it? This is incredible. You burst in on me as if - I have no idea who she is, this woman. I never asked her for anything.

COLMAN: (As Anne) She's here to help you.

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) To help me do what? I don't need her. I don't need anyone.

MONDELLO: He's driven away three caretakers and is clearly slipping mentally, which wreaks havoc in Anne's life. She'd planned to move to Paris, so what's the problem this time?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) She was stealing from me.

COLMAN: (As Anne) Angela? Of course not. What are you talking about?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) I'm telling you. She stole my watch. Yes.

COLMAN: (As Anne) Your watch?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Yes.

COLMAN: (As Anne) Isn't it more likely you just lost it?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) No.

MONDELLO: Anne suggests a spot he might look, and he comes back a moment later wearing the watch. Crisis averted. After Anne's left, though, Anthony finds a man in his sitting room. New crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

MARK GATISS: (As The Man) Anthony, it's me, Paul.

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Who? What are you doing here?

GATISS: (As The Man) I live here.

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) You live here in my flat? Oh, that's the best yet. What is this nonsense?

MONDELLO: French writer-director Florian Zeller is adapting his own play here and using tricks he couldn't onstage. In mid-scene, on-screen, he can make subtle changes to Anthony's flat - wall colors, light fixtures - so that the character's confusion about where he is becomes our confusion. And Zeller's playing tricks with casting, too. Anthony's daughter, Anne, is played by Olivia Colman...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

COLMAN: (As Anne) I can't leave you here on your own. It's not possible.

MONDELLO: ...Except when she's played by another Olivia, Olivia Williams.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Where's Anne?

OLIVIA WILLIAMS: (As The Woman) I'm here. I just went down to do some shopping, and I'm back now.

MONDELLO: Not to mention Zeller's biggest trick. In his play, "The Father," the title character was named Andre. In his film, Zeller's cast Anthony Hopkins and renamed the character Anthony, encouraging us to hear echoes of the Anthony Hopkins we know - the Shakespearean...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) I'm not leaving my flat. I am not leaving my flat.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) This isn't your flat, Anthony.

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Sorry?

MONDELLO: ...Also Hopkins, the charming old coot...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Tap dancing is my specialty. I'm still great at it. I'll show you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAP DANCING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, laughing).

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Aye (laughter). Jolly good. Why are you laughing?

MONDELLO: ...And Hopkins, the guy you should never let your guard down around.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) I know who she reminds me of.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Who?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) It's Lucy, Lucy when she was younger.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Lucy?

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, laughing).

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) Her unbearable habit of laughing inanely. I had you there, didn't I? (Laughter).

MONDELLO: Hopkins gives us what amounts to an acting tour de show of force, except when...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) You're abandoning me.

COLMAN: (As Anne) Dad.

MONDELLO: ...He lets the fire go out of his eyes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FATHER")

HOPKINS: (As Anthony) What's going to become of me?

MONDELLO: A less subtle filmmaker might try to take us inside mental deterioration with jarring edits or other film tricks. In "The Father," Zeller simply presents us with the title character's reality and lets us fend for ourselves. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUDOVICO EINAUDI, FEDERICO MECOZZI AND REDI HASA'S "LOW MIST VAR. 2 - DAY 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.