The Son (2022) Review!!!

Synopsis – Peter as his busy life with new partner Emma and their baby is thrown into disarray when his ex-wife Kate turns up with their teenage son, Nicholas.

My Take – There is no denying of the fact that The Father (2020) is among one of the true masterpieces of the last few years. A talky triumph which won director Florian Zeller, and his co-writer Christopher Hampton, an Academy award for best adapted screenplay and his lead, Sir Anthony Hopkins the much deserved best actor trophy. Hot off the success of his directorial debut, filmmaker Zeller‘s follow up is yet another small-scale stage adaptation stuffed with thorny inter-generational family dynamics.

While 2020 saw an octogenarian Welsh man dealing with dementia, mental illness is the core driving force this time around. Gently capturing the pain of parents who see their beloved child so desperately in need of help yet feeling absolutely powerless. Resulting in an equally a harrowing watch, despite using a more conventional straightforward piece of storytelling and lacking the slippery, shape-shifting quality of his previous film.

Yes, it is a flawed film but with a kind heart and contains a story that will certainly resonate with many. A gradually sadder, depressing, frustrating story that grips the audience through its tension-filled dialogue, and the film’s compassionate writing never loses the essential humanity of the characters or their struggles, illustrating genuine effort on all parts. This is a story that understands than in trying to do our best, packing an emotional punch with thematic layers rich in emotion.

Understandably, the film is receiving a divisive reception, as it doesn’t necessarily wield great results and the lack of something new and impactful directly about those primarily affected by mental health issues could make it an uncomfortable trigger for many viewers.

Nevertheless, there is nuanced storytelling balance that would not expect in such kind of films, giving way to sublime performances like one Hugh Jackman who delivers his most vulnerable work since Logan (2017).

The story follows Peter (Hugh Jackman), a fifty-year-old high-flying lawyer who has set his sights on a political career and seems to be at the apex of his professional and personal life. At home, he has begun a new chapter with his beautiful partner named Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their newborn son Theo.

However, his life begins to complicate when his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) arrives at his new Manhattan apartment, asking him to speak to their 17-year-old son Nicholas (Zen McGrath), who she recently discovered hasn’t been to school over a month and is struggling overall. Peter naturally assumes that he can fix the problem. But by attempting to correct the mistakes made by his own largely absent father (Anthony Hopkins), Peter fails to see the warning signs of his son’s deteriorating mental health.

While The Father (2020) used a single focus to illustrate the unique perspective of those afflicted by Alzheimer’s, one so rarely seen on screen. Something which created a terrifying experience of fear, paranoia, and uncertainty where the audience eventually began questioning what was real and what wasn’t, much like the lead character whose condition slowly deteriorates his mental stability and sense of self.

But director Zeller takes a different approach this time around and presents the son’s mental illness from the standpoint of a parent, who has his own life and yet devotes to his son despite no solution to his plight. It makes the audience complicit in Peter’s inadequate parenting. He’s not horrible, uncaring or unloving, but he’s busy and understandably impatient with the situation. He also resents and fears that he has caused this, that his son has become the collateral damage of his divorce.

Standing on the outside, the highly functional Peter can’t help wishing his son could just snap out of it. But of course, no one would willingly stay so miserable. Yes, this approach can feel more familiar and somewhat standard, but in its broadness the layers of his storytelling convey much more emotional power than what it may at first seem.

It’s not just a story of depression’s effect on those who are victims to the condition, but also one that illustrates the effects of such a debilitating disease on loving parents as Peter and Kate struggle with a lot, like any parent would. What’s more interesting about the film is the way that it captures the slightly unsettling quality of depression, the way that people feel uneasy in Nicholas’s presence.

Here, director Zeller plays with emotive imagery to powerful effect, like placing a knife, which Beth finds under Nicholas’s mattress, in the same frame as the couple’s new baby suggests subliminally that the boy could be as much a threat to his infant step-brother as he is to himself. And director Zeller seeds the film with hints that Nicholas may not be trustworthy as a missing pair of earrings takes on a loaded significance. The film works at its best when it navigates how scary and slippery it is to try and help someone you love who is expressing suicidal tendencies, as well as to make tough decisions when it comes to making someone’s medical choices for them, often against their will.

Sure, in comparison while director Zeller found cinematic ways to emphasize what he could only suggest in the original stage play of The Father (2020), here, the film loses something in the translation from stage to screen. At times, it feels talky and confined, not in a bad way but enough to notice.

Nevertheless, it helps that the film is backed by solid performances. Hugh Jackman stands out with one of the best performances of his career in a genuinely powerful, tear-inducing display. He has many layers of emotions to go through and his final scenes are simply devastating. Surely deserves more attention than he received. Laura Dern is excellent as always and maximizes every little minute on screen.

Vanessa Kirby is able to show more facets due to the conflict she goes through. Anthony Hopkins appears in a small but very memorable and effective role. Zen McGrath effectively balances between being sometimes charming and sometimes unsettling. On the whole, ‘The Son’ is an empathetic depiction of struggle on all fronts which despite a conventional approach manages to be emotionally devastating.

Directed –

Starring – Vanessa Kirby, Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 123 minutes

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