‘A flawed film with a kind heart’

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 suicide ideation, as well as the Sophie’s Choice-style decisions when it comes to making someone’s medical choices for them, often against their will. “Love will not be enough,” Nicholas’s doctor tells his parents – a terrifying thing to synthesise when we’re told throughout our lives that love can cure all ills.

It’s a shame, then, that Jackman and Dern over-egg their performances a little, leaning into stagey tics that come off as emotionally dishonest and misaligned with McGrath’s more computerised approach. Kirby is pleasingly layered as the new, younger wife who seems to secretly resent the trouble Nicholas is causing for her newborn bubble, but perhaps the film’s best performance comes in the form of a cameo by Anthony Hopkins as Peter’s father Anthony, in a role almost as sinister as his days as Dr Lecter.

We see – through Nicholas, Peter and Anthony – three generations of men who are struggling to speak the same lingua franca, reflecting generational misunderstandings when it comes to male mental health (Anthony dismisses the youth of today as “snivelling cowards”), and the ruinous consequences that can have. That said, The Son’s points are parlayed a little simplistically, with obvious foreshadowing making the film’s ending a foregone conclusion. The ending, in particular, lacks gravitas as it’s rather obvious what is about to happen – and even when the denouement arrives, it all whiffs of tear-jerking manipulation.

We feel visually short-changed with The Son, too, which is all the more disappointing when we remember how excellent production design, framing and direction in The Father helped us feel disorientated and claustrophobic, like its dementia-suffering protagonist. Here, the use of space feels less sophisticated, with a rather dull colour palette of dove grey and chalky blue, as well as largely uninspiring directorial choices. There’s a gratingly over-used and cloying score that saps away any dramatic tension, which – paired with some histrionic acting at the film’s close – makes you think how much better a performance Hugh Jackman gave as a man whose life is on the brink of ruin in 2019’s sorely underseen Bad Education.

That isn’t to say that The Son is an unmitigated disaster, or even anything that feels like showy Oscar bait: it is a flawed film with a kind heart, but a significantly less impressive progeny of The Father’s talky triumph. Like father, like son? Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.


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